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THE NHS is being held to ransom by pharmaceutical companies who are charging a fortune — almost half a billion pounds last year— for cancer drugs that taxpayers helped to develop, health campaigners have warned.
Groundbreaking new analysis by the Missing Medicines Coalition has found that the NHS was fleeced of £458 million by pharmaceutical companies in 2017-18 for life-saving medicines that were originally developed with public funding but are now patented by big pharma, the term critics use for the giants of the drugs industry.
The shocking revelation comes on World Cancer Day today, with an urgent call for the public to “stop paying twice for medicine.”
In the latest big pharma rip-off, the health campaigners say three of the five most expensive cancer drugs come from publicly funded research.
Last year the NHS paid Swiss multinational Roche an eye-watering £163 million for breast cancer drug Trastuzumab (sold as Herceptin etc), according to the coalition formed by Global Justice Now, Just Treatment and Stopaids.
The same Swiss giant also charged the NHS £153 million for the blood cancer medicine Rituximab (Rituxan etc).
Another treatment, Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), which tackles lung and skin cancers, was sold to the NHS by US drug manufacturer Merck, costing the British public £142 million.
All three of these drugs were pioneered by Nobel Prize-winning British biochemist Sir Greg Winter, who did much of his research at the government-owned Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.
Radhika Patel, campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “Millions of people across the country run marathons, make donations or volunteer their time to help the fight against cancer, and every penny counts.
“So why is the government letting Big Pharma charge such vast amounts for drugs where public funding has paid for research?
“Medical research needs first and foremost to serve people, not lay the ground for pharmaceutical company profits.
“It is time for ministers to turn the corporate-driven model of drug production on its head and put people’s right to health first.”
Saoirse Fitzpatrick from Stopaids, co-ordinator of the Missing Medicines Coalition, said: “The government is always talking about value for money: well, this is an area where we could be saving money and lives.
“The public are footing the bill for the riskiest part of drug development where breakthroughs happen.
“Then the big pharmaceutical companies swoop in, patent a medicine and use the monopoly to charge the public an extortionate price.”
High prices for medicines have increasingly caused the NHS to ration or refuse drugs, including a breast cancer treatment.
Diarmaid McDonald from Just Treatment said: “On World Cancer Day, the government needs to commit to doing much more than haggling on price and giving up if drug companies refuse to budge. It needs to make big structural changes to medical innovation that put patients before profit.”
Last year a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that the price of cancer drugs was disproportionately higher than other types of medicines.
The WHO said pharma firms set prices according to “commercial goals, with a focus on extracting the maximum amount that a buyer is willing to pay for a medicine” — and that prices are not based on the cost of development.
The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.
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