At a glance: Pharma industry under fire over cost of drugs

Under fire from whom?
Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB), the magazine published by consumer group Which?, carried a piece last week arguing that pharma companies are undermining the NHS's attempts to control its £10bn annual drugs bill. The Financial Times was among media outlets that reported the DTB story.

Explain DTB's argument a little more…
DTB says that the NHS wants to use more generics but that pharma companies deploy tactics that push patients towards their more expensive brand-name equivalents. It says ‘typical ploys' include marketing a new brand-name drug that is very similar chemically to the original, as somehow better.

Hmm, I think I've heard this criticism before. Are there any examples?
In its own press release, DTB highlights Schering-Plough's hayfever remedy, Clarityn, which was withdrawn from market in 2001 before patent expiry. A new formulation, called Neoclarityn, was then introduced - despite limited comparative data on the two drugs.

So, what does DTB suggest?
That withdrawing a brand-name drug before its patent expires - and then introducing the new formulation before a generic can be released - means patients may be reluctant to switch from their established new-brand drug when the generic finally makes it to market.

What will be the pharma industry's response?
It is unlikely that Schering-Plough will feel the need to respond to the DTB article directly, since the manufacturer denied five years ago that patent expiry was the reason for the change to Neoclarityn. But at a time when the NHS is looking to increase the number of generics it uses, manufacturers will be continually rehearsing their comms position in the generics-versus-brands context.

And those comms stances are..?
In a nutshell: without branded products there can be no generics in the first place. In this symbiotic relationship, the money that manufacturers commit to R&D to create new brands must be recouped by sales before patents expire. If that revenue stream is cut off, then patients will not have access to the best new treatments in future. Drugs must evolve to fight diseases.

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