Pharmaceutical industry spokesmen are calling for new mechanisms for the funding of innovative new medicines in the UK. They warn that, under present circumstances, they are not confident that forthcoming advances in the treatment of cancer, for example, will be taken up when they arrive on the market.

The UK’s take-up of innovative new medicines, in terms of international league tables, is now about the same as the country’s recent performance in the Eurovision Song Contest, in which the national entry was placed 19th, according to Nigel Brooksby, managing director of Sanofi-Aventis in the UK and president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

It was almost inevitable that patients would make more and more use of the courts in order to gain access to innovative products such as Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab), he went on to warn, and described this as a negative development.

John Melville, managing director of Roche in the UK, claimed that while no one in the industry would deny the existence of NICE blight (the reported withholding of treatments being assessed by the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

until after the appraisal has been published), it was also the case that many payers “hide behind” NICE and use the system to avoid providing treatments. He warned that the UK runs the risk of developing a two-tier health system, with very different care being made available to patients with private cover than to those treated on the NHS; this was certainly true in the case of Herceptin, he added.

Asked by Pharma Times if central funding should be introduced for the provision of innovative, and expensive, new treatments, a spokesman for the ABPI agreed that this was “one idea.” It was illogical, he added, for the NICE to make a decision that a treatment should be available on the NHS, only for a health trust to then declare that it cannot afford to provide it.

The spokesman called for wider financial planning within the NHS, with greater flexibility that would take into account the savings made to the Service through the use of medicines. He also urged a move away from the way in which productivity within the NHS is currently measured, which is by means of numbers of procedures carried out, or “people coming through the door” - this actually represents failure, he said.