Janssen’s Incivo (telapravir) and Merck Sharp and Dohme’s Victrelis (boceprevir) have taken the top prize at this year’s UK Prix Galien Awards, while Takeda’s Mepact (mifamurtide) grabbed the number one spot in the Orphan Drug category, for conditions that affect a very small number of patients.

Mepact is the first significant advance in the treatment of osteosarcoma – a rare malignant bone tumour that primarily affects children and adolescents – in 10-20 years, commented Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, Chair of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, who led the panel of judges. “To investigate the role of this immune modulator in osteosarcoma required extensive and complex trial design with careful implementation of the study programme.” It was the only drug to be nominated for this award, however, making its win something of an inevitability.

“The focus should always be on the patient,” said the Rt. Hon Kevin Barron, who opened the ceremony at the House of Commons, London. He also pointed to the vigour with which pharma is tackling diseases of unmet need, adding: “Pharmaceutical innovation is aligned with many of the priority needs identified in the NHS Outcomes Framework … finalists included innovations for the treatment of diseases in cardiovascular, hepatology, mental health, neurology, gastroenterology and oncology.”  

And there was support for pharma too from the former Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley, the architect of controversial reforms to the NHS in England, who referred to the Innovation Health and Wealth report as being part of a value-based message the government wanted to send to the NHS. “That message is that as you, the pharmaceutical industry, bring forward new treatments that will clearly add value and improve the quality of healthcare for patients – then the NHS should be at the forefront, internationally, of demonstrating that value” … “What you are doing is part of how this country will pay its way in the future,” he stressed.

Between 200,000 and 400,000 people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus in the UK alone, leading to conditions such as liver cancer or cirrhosis. But, noted Sir Michael in announcing the winners, “current treatments remain ineffective in a significant number of cases while being unpleasant and poorly tolerated by patients themselves”.

Incivo is a new class of antiviral, an NS3 4A protease inhibitor, that has been shown to result in significantly greater rates of viral clearance when given alongside the current standard of care – ribavirin and pegylated interferon – than this regimen alone and with a shorter treatment duration.

Meanwhile, Victrelis is the first in a new class of drugs and acts directly on the virus itself to stop it replicating, resulting in a near two-fold increase in the number of treatment naïve patients achieving a sustained virological response when administered with pegylated interferon plus ribavirin.

With 12 medicines shortlisted, Sir Michael revealed he had been impressed with the creativity, innovation and scientific rigour that had gone into the discovery and development of all entries. All were evaluated across a variety of measures, including hospital usage, pharmacoeconomics, clinical data and meeting an unmet need.