A new report published by Novartis highlights the need to lower the costs of conducting clinical trials in the UK in order to make it more attractive to pharma.

The report, which was discussed at a special meeting in London with members of the UK Government yesterday, found that the UK had some of the highest costs for conducting R&D.

Trials in the UK are, on average, 70% more expensive than trials conducted in Poland and 30% more expensive than trials conducted in Germany, Novartis’ report found.

The firm says this is largely driven by “additional and unnecessary costs leveraged against the UK costing template”, for example, set up, overhead and pharmacy costs, all of which are already provided for in the national costing template.

Novartis believes this is made worse by “protracted negotiation incurred by non-compliance with the costing template”, which can delay the start-up of new studies in the UK and, it says, limits the ability to recruit to the numbers needed for a trial.

The firm’s UK affiliate also says the UK is currently in a “unique position” as it is the only country in Europe with a single model clinical trials agreement and associated costing template.

To help drive down costs, Novartis says it is “vital that we make the most of this and [NHS] Trusts resist the temptation to try to leverage additional fees on top of the costing template”, as not only does this drive up the UK costs, but it also “causes significant delays to start-up and has a detrimental impact on recruit to target potential”.

Payment to investigators

The report adds that the NHS “appears to systematically treat trials as if they were a departure from the NHS’ core functions – a departure that needs to be compensated with high charges”. 

But for Novartis, this structure is part of the problem and may affect the willingness of investigators to take part in trials. The UK system demands that 100% of money from trials goes directly to central Trust funds, with only a small percentage distributed to the investigators.

But compare this to some countries in Europe: in Spain, the proportion of money being paid directly to the investigator is between 60-80% and in Poland it is 50-80%, which means many researchers will choose these countries over the UK.

The solution, Novartis believes, is a cultural shift in attitudes towards trialling. It would also like a review of funding flows, to ensure that investigators are adequately incentivised for the R&D work undertaken.

ABPI stance on research

This report and yesterday’s discussion comes less than a week after the ABPI and BIA held a joint meeting with academia and the NHS to discuss the research environment in the UK.

The conference believed that the UK Government was making strong efforts to help research in the country, notably by the introduction of the Innovation, Health and Wealth report last year, which aims to get medicines to the market more quickly, and a smaller tax rate for those companies conducting R&D in the country.

But the ABPI said that the government can always do more, and still wanted to see less red tape when it comes to trials and better access to drugs in the country to ensure that pharma companies wanted to undertake research here.