NHS Challenges Big Pharma in High Court Row Over Power of Drug Pricing

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The NHS has made accusations against big Pharma companies of making false arguments to mount a High Court challenge of drug pricing powers created to keep a lid on Britain’s medicines bill.

An industry trade body controlled by overseas big pharma, including: Sanofi, Roche and Pfizer dealing with allegations from top health sector managers that it is going after an “unarguable” and “makeweight” judicial review.

In court papers viewed by The Sunday Telegraph, NHS England urges judges to toss out the challenge by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), a body representing the UK’s £63bn life sciences industry.

The ruckus is over powers introduced back in April giving NHS England the right to allocate costly medicines, including if they are anticipated to cost more than $20 million euro in the first three years of use. Beforehand, medicines approved as clinically effective and good value for money by public drug prices regulator Nice had to be funded and made available by the NHS within 90 days.

The dilemma, currently being considered by judges, is the latest flashpoint in a continuous battle between drug makers and the NHS over hiking drug prices, as the health service struggles to meet the advancing expense of complex next generation medicines.

The drug makers’ debate the changes will hinder patients’ access to cutting-edge treatments, specifically for rare diseases where the benefits are grand but the patient numbers are small. In their argument, the drug firms report Nice acted beyond its powers to introduce the so-called budget impact test and failed to properly consult with ¬industry on the detail of the proposals.

Though the public bodies disprove these claims, arguing they had the right to make the changes and broadly consulted. They argue expensive treatments can still clear the various obstacles if the benefits can be proven. The challenge has been delivered against Nice, with NHS England considered an interested party. While the ABPI speaks for the British drugs industry, 14 overseas conglomerates dominate its 16-strong board.

In July, The Sunday Telegraph reported that the impetus for the judicial review came from these overseas members, with just two British board members, the FTSE 100’s AstraZeneca and GSK, separating themselves. During that time, the ABPI reported it was endorsed by a “majority” of the board. Though, this week the ABPI added there was “complete unanimity across the industry on the issue”. GSK stated its position remains the same.

Dr Richard Torbett, executive director at the ABPI, stated, “These are exceptional circumstances, but given the impact that these new measures will have on NHS patients and our members, we believe the application for ¬judicial review is the right thing to do.”

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