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25 September 2019EuropeRory O'Neill

UK Labour promises public generics company, compulsory drug licensing

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, has pledged to create a publicly-owned drugs manufacturer and use compulsory licensing to sell generic, lower priced versions of drugs to the country’s National Health Service (NHS).

He made the commitment as part of his address to Labour’s annual conference in Brighton yesterday, September 24.

In his speech, Corbyn said that the party would “redesign the system to serve public health, not private wealth, using compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines”.

“We’ll tell the drugs companies that if they want public research funding, then they’ll have to make their drugs affordable for all,” Corbyn said.

The comments were accompanied by the launch of a new policy document on reforming the UK pharmaceutical industry, entitled “ Medicines for the Many: Public Health before Private Profit”.

The document commits to the establishment of a new public pharmaceutical manufacturer which would supply lower priced versions of drugs to the NHS.

“The current health innovation system is based on awarding IP rights on new drugs, but it is important to recognise that these rights are not absolute,” the document said.

The party said it would use Crown licenses, the UK term for a compulsory licence, to provide greater public access to drugs such as Orkambi (ivacaftor/lumacaftor).

In the document, Labour sharply criticised Vertex for the prices it charges for the cystic fibrosis drug.

Making the case for employing a Crown licence for Orkambi, Labour said: “The NHS could potentially save £4 billion ($4.9 billion) over ten years through generic procurement, as well as ensure patients can access this life-changing drug.”

Corbyn also referenced Vertex in his speech, noting that he had met Luis Walker, a nine year old boy suffering from cystic fibrosis who was unable to access Orkambi on the NHS.

In his speech, he said that Walker and “tens of thousands of others” were being deprived access to medicine by “a system that puts profits for shareholders before people’s lives”.

In response, Vertex said that “invoking Crown use and providing third parties with access to a company’s IP would not represent a quick solution for patients and is not a mechanism for the provision of medicines at a lower price”.

“Importantly, in this case, it would seriously undermine Vertex’s ability to achieve our goals to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis for all patients and ultimately discover a cure,” Vertex said.

Corbyn’s speech was welcomed by a coalition of health campaigns who have argued for greater access to patent-protected medicines.

Heidi Chow, campaigns manager at Global Justice Now, said that Corbyn’s announcement “could be the beginning of the end of big pharma’s stranglehold over our medicines”.

“We cannot go on with patients suffering needlessly without vital drugs, as medicine prices skyrocket and the pharmaceutical industry makes billions,” Chow added.

Corbyn’s announcement has been met with scepticism from the pharmaceutical industry.

Commenting on Corbyn’s proposal to create a public generics manufacturer, the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) told LSIPR that it would “welcome more detail on what he proposes”.

Warwick Smith, director general of the BGMA, said that competition was the “bedrock” of the UK generics system, “which delivers the lowest prices in Europe and delivers savings to the NHS of more than £13 billion ($16.1 billion) every year”.

The Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which represents research-based pharmaceutical companies, criticised Labour’s proposals.

Richard Torbett, executive director of commercial policy at the ABPI, said that compulsory licensing was “not the answer” and would “completely undermine the system for developing new medicines”.

“It would send a hugely negative signal to British scientists and would discourage research in a country that wants to be a leader in innovation,” Torbett said.

In a press release, Labour said that it would “separate innovation from price incentives”.

The party said it would introduce a new “system of innovation funding based on upfront grants or subsidies and funding awards tied to priorities that are the most socially valuable and challenging”.

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19 November 2019   The Russian government has endorsed legislation that would allow it to employ compulsory drug licensing in emergencies.
Big Pharma
1 February 2022   UK politicians are proposing that the country waive UK registered IP related to vaccines and treatments in the event of a pandemic.

More on this story

Generics
26 September 2019   China’s drug pricing overhaul has seen the average cost of drugs drop by more than half, the country’s Joint Procurement Office announced this week.
Generics
19 November 2019   The Russian government has endorsed legislation that would allow it to employ compulsory drug licensing in emergencies.
Big Pharma
1 February 2022   UK politicians are proposing that the country waive UK registered IP related to vaccines and treatments in the event of a pandemic.