On the agenda - NICE defends NHS drugs rationing

- In a nutshell

The chair of the Government's health watchdog took the unusual step of speaking out in defence of NHS rationing after a spate of negative coverage. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) chair Sir Michael Rawlins laid blame on the pharmaceutical firms in an outspoken interview with The Observer earlier this month. He warned of 'perverse incentives' to hike the prices of new drugs and claimed that kidney drugs could be made for a tenth of the present cost.

... and there's more

Rawlins also claimed that marketing costs in Europe were twice the spend on research and development and that the costs were built into European drug prices.

- Why has he spoken out?

NICE has come under fire in recent weeks for its drug approval process. Its highly controversial decision to reject four drugs that can treat advanced kidney cancer received widespread criticism across the media landscape. This was followed by the results of a consultation on its drug approval process, which saw the process branded 'chaotic' and 'flawed and irrational' by various patient groups. Fantasy author Terry Pratchett also criticised NICE last week for its decision to limit access to the Alzheimer's drug Aricept.

- How has the industry responded to Rawlins' claims?

A spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said companies were committed to reducing prices: 'It costs on average £330m to bring each new treatment to patients, and naturally companies will look to recoup such costs through the final price.'

10 - Average number of years to bring a drug to market.

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