AT A GLANCE: Pharmaceutical firms are under fire for data lapses

What’s going on?
Karl Claxton, professor of economics at York University, last week told the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee that he was ‘constantly frustrated’ by the quality of data that pharma companies produce on the cost-effectiveness of their products.

Why does it matter what he says?
The committee is examining the operation of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which Claxton advises. The Financial Times last Friday reported that he also said clinical trial data submitted by firms could be ‘entirely irrelevant’, often of poor quality, gathered over too short a period and did not link results to health outcomes.

Sounds fairly damning for the pharma industry?
So you’d think. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s (ABPI) line this time is: Claxton is right to say there is a problem with data from pharma companies – but he is wrong to say it is the industry’s fault.

Seems like something of a mixed message?
Not at all, says the ABPI’s head of media relations Richard Ley. He argues that NICE tends to assess medicines close to their launch, so time constraints mean that data on cost-effectiveness is inevitably not as detailed as anyone would like. The ABPI is also trying to introduce a more philosophical note into this debate over the nature of ‘value’ itself.

Doesn’t that sound a little wishy-washy?
Not if the comms team can also use hard numbers. The ABPI has figures suggesting that NHS drug prices are 21 per cent lower in real terms than ten years ago, and that nearly £11bn of hospital resources have been freed up by drugs that have halved admissions for major illnesses. It says NICE’s measure of cost-effectiveness (known as ‘cost per QALY’) is too narrow.

So this is an ongoing reputational challenge?
Yes, cost is an area of heated debate. For example, earlier this year the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) called for a revamp of the pharmaceutical pricing regulation scheme – which caps the profits of pharma companies on brands they sell to the NHS (PRWeek, 28 February). The OFT reckoned the NHS is being charged half a billion pounds too much for branded medicines.

For further information visit www.abpi.org.uk

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