In an interview with the Times published over the weekend, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, was quoted as speaking out strongly on drug pricing, criticising “profiteering” in the industry, and saying he would not allow companies to “rip off taxpayers”, and “hold the NHS to ransom”.
The comments were prompted by ongoing negotiations between Vertex and NHS England (NHSE) as part of efforts to get new cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi (lumacaftor/ivacaftor) routinely commissioned on the NHS in England. The Secretary of State contrasted this with the recent agreement between Novartis and NHSE which will bring leukaemia drug Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) to patients in England. Drug pricing has always been a difficult topic to air in the press, so the secretary of state’s comments will be seen as unhelpful by some, as context is missing in the story. The cost of developing medicines for rare conditions is extremely risky for companies, as the majority of drug candidates fail and leave companies to pick up the enormous costs. As a society, we have to decide not only what is a reasonable price to pay based on the clinical benefits, but also if we want to encourage innovative healthcare companies to take the risk in the first place.
Hancock’s comments are not unprecedented. In 2016 his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, called the pricing strategies of pharmaceutical companies “unethical and unacceptable”. Nevertheless, Hancock’s remarks come at a particularly tense time for the industry, which is currently responding to government proposals to implement charging for NICE Health Technology Appraisals (HTA), and increase rebate percentages on the Statutory Regulations for pharmaceutical pricing.
More on the HTA and Statutory Regulations consultations can be found here.