Big Pharma never ceases to surprise but the demand from Novartis that the NHS uses one of its expensive products rather than a cheaper one really takes the biscuit.
In a bid to reduce drug costs, four NHS areas in the south of England are using a cheaper alternative to Lucentis to treat a common cause of loss of vision known as wet AMD.
Lucentis, which costs around £740 per injection, is the treatment officially recommended to the NHS in
Avastin, also made by Novartis, is not officially approved for eye conditions, but is being used when it is prescribed by a qualified opthamologist. It costs around £60 per injection.
"Avastin is internationally recognised as an effective treatment for AMD, and for example over 50% of AMD patients in the
Novartis is now going to court to claim that the hospitals are putting hospital patients at risk by using Avastin instead of Lucentis, which, coming from an industry known for all sorts of data manipulation, is really too much.
In the end, it’s about the corporation’s profits, much of which comes from supplying drugs to the NHS. The health service’s annual drugs bill is £12 billion, almost double the total cost a decade ago.
The judicial review launched by Novartis comes as the corporation renews its challenge in
This prevents generic manufacturers from producing the drug.
According to Nature magazine, Novartis is also seeking a 20-year patent on a new version of its 11-year-old anti-cancer drug Gleevec, which costs roughly $30 for one 100-milligram pill. A generic version of the drug can cost as little as $3.
Leena Menghaney, campaign coordinator of Medecins Sans Frontieres in
When India signed up to the World Trade Organisation's agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) in 2005, the country won a clause that states that a drug must show a marked difference in efficacy from previous versions to be patentable. “Whereas US patent offices often grant frivolous patents on routine pharmaceutical improvements to a drug,
With final hearings in the Supreme Court scheduled for July, she warns: “If Novartis wins, many other medicines, even those that show no increased therapeutic efficacy, will be patentable in
Big Pharma – the top 20 corporations have an estimated $150 billion in resources – is more interested in protecting patents than developing new drugs against common diseases, or in persuading people to buy “lifestyle” drugs they don’t really need.
Scientists say that little new has come out of the industry over the last decade. Meanwhile, universities are starved of resources and money devoted to research. Big Pharma has an unhealthy grip on society’s collective throats that requires a strong dose of revolutionary medicine to get rid of.