The British public is largely in the dark with regard to the cost of developing and launching new medicines, as well as the amount the National Health Service spends on them, a survey by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has found.

Nearly 60% of 1,000 people surveyed believe that pharmaceutical companies spend less than £10 million on researching and developing a medicine when, in reality, it costs more than £1 billion on average and takes more than 12 years.

In addition, 35% of respondents were of the belief that 20% or more of the National Health Service budget is spent on medicines, when they actually accounted for just 9.7% in 2011, slipping from the 12.5% spend in 1999.

“I am really concerned that people do not understand the cost or value of medicines in this country," said the ABPIs chief executive Stephen Whitehead. 

"To create new treatments in the UK, the pharmaceutical industry undertakes huge risk and investment and is still able to provide the NHS with amongst the lowest priced medicines in Europe," he stressed.

Moreover, he argued that medicines are "the bedrock of the NHS", that have not only "saved and changed the lives of millions of people" but have also saved the system money "because their effective use can often reduce the need for expensive hospital care and operations".

His strong defence of the sector comes just weeks after the global pharmaceutical industry took a bit of a bashing in a British Medical Journal-published article essentially accusing companies of putting their profits ahead of new medical discoveries.

“Most research and development at large pharmaceutical companies is directed at developing clinically minor drugs rather than finding better drugs for unmet needs,” claimed authors Donald Light, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Joel Lexchin of the University of York in Toronto.

The timing is also interesting given that the ABPI is currently gearing up for talks with the government - to take place this month - that should hammer out the foundations of a new drug pricing structure that will include the introduction of value-based pricing, which will see pharma companies having to prove the added benefit of medicines coming onto the market from 2014.

JOIN THE DEBATE: The motion for this year's PharmaTimes Great Oxford Debate, taking place on Thursday 20 September, is 'Patients have the right to the best medicines, regardless of cost'. 

Proposing the motion are Professor Richard Sullivan, Director, Institute of Cancer Policy and member of the Kings Health Partners Integrated Cancer Centre, Stephen Whitehead, Chief Executive, ABPI, and Eric Low, OBE, Chief Executive, Myeloma UK.

Opposing will be the Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell, MP, Chairman of the Health Select Committee, Professor Mike Pringle, President Elect, RCGP, and Laura Weir, Head of Policy & Campaigns, MS Society and Chair, Patients Involved in NICE (PIN).

Click here for more information and tickets.