A leading UK university has reacted with bemusement to criticism from Medecins Sans Frontieres about a report it has published regarding the financing of future research at a time when innovative drugmakers are struggling to get what they perceive are fair prices for their therapies.
The UCL School of Pharmacy has issued a report, funded mainly by Bayer and Novartis, which expresses concern relating to the use of unlicensed products as comparators in cost effectiveness appraisals. While claiming that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence "has many positive achievements to its credit", the report is broadly critical of the agency's methodologies and expresses fears about "an increased emphasis on saving cash" to the detriment of providing care for patients.
The launch of the report provoked a fierce attack from MSF. Katy Athersuch, its medical innovation and access policy adviser, claimed it is "part of a wider campaign to increase drug prices across Europe. She added that "in calling on NICE to abandon its narrow focus on the NHS budget, the report says that the only answer to innovation and new medicines are ever-increasing prices. This is simply not true".
Ms Athersuch went on to say that "the reality is, even with higher drug prices, the pharma companies aren’t delivering the drugs we actually need. We are facing a crisis of antibiotic resistance, but the pipeline for new drugs against killer bacteria is dwindling because these companies are simply chasing the biggest profits".
She went on to say that "our entire R&D system is broken, and a band aid of paying more for our medicines won’t fix it; it needs a complete overhaul. We need new incentives, like prizes, that separate the link between innovation and high prices but still allow affordable new medical tools once they are developed".
Ms Athersuch concluded by saying that with most of the world's poor "living in so-called middle-income countries – exactly the countries where this high-price model will be exported to next - it is critical that Bayer, Novartis and the industry as a whole, embrace models of innovation that allow new medicines to be affordable for all".
In response, lead author of the report, David Taylor, told PharmaTimes that the analysis is "of course concerned with cost effectiveness methodologies used in the UK and allied settings, rather than with pricing across all markets". He added that "the global public has interests in both ensuring that the incentives available to innovators are adequate to ensure ongoing private and public investment in bio-pharmaceutical innovation".
In response to MSF's comments, Prof Taylor said that in the report "there is no call for ever increasing drug prices, just one for sustainable research funding and appropriate cost effectiveness appraisal techniques". He went on to stress the importance of "finding mechanisms that can permit good and timely access to effective treatments in rich and poor parts of the world-wide community. There are risks involved in undervaluing new medicines, as well as in failing to care sufficiently for their potential users".