Warfarin, toxin of choice to rid us of nasty rats, is also the drug of choice to stop you having a blood clot. Liberally prescribed on the NHS, the tablets cost peanuts. However it’s not perfect. You can’t take it with other common medicines such as aspirin and thyroxine, you can’t eat your greens (spinach, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, green beans, asparagus, broccoli etc) and it requires regular blood tests to ensure the dose is ok. These checks also cost the NHS money – in some cases patient’s require weekly appointments with a nurse.
So that’s why companies have been trying to find something better. Pfizer and BMS have just produced more results from their contribution. They are not the only ones, but the point is, it will be much more expensive than warfarin, so will our doctors prescribe it even though it will reduce staff costs? And how will patients know to ask for it? Will the government be giving power as well as information?
Meanwhile in Germany, a new drug for Diabetes is sitting on the shelf because changes to the government’s pricing mechanism mean that the proposed price could be so low it might not be worth the producers selling it there. The repercussions are huge: loss of revenue for the company; no access to the medicine for patients; loss of clinical trials opportunities in the future (as new medicines are compared the best in field); an implicit message to industry that innovation isn’t valued.
There are important reasons to remember that there is more to medicines than taking a pill: ensuring we don’t disincentivise risk-taking and the innovative steps that can turn into a breakthrough; offering choice; remembering that although drug development is global, without a strong science base and a fair market we will lose out both economically and medically. If George Osborne is serious about science and innovation being the priority for growth (and the Life Sciences Autumn Package questions are taken seriously), then he also mustn’t ignore DH plans for changes to pricing of medicines. They might not think that pills, pricing and growth are connected, but believing them would risk our recovery.