Nowhere is the debate more intense than in the UK, where budget pressure on the National Health Service has capped growth of the annual £12bn drugs bill and created tensions with the often competing interests of the pharma sector.
“We can’t continue as we have in the past,” George Freeman, UK life sciences minister, told a conference in London last week, urging a “new deal” between government and drugmakers.
Mr Freeman’s vision will be set out in an official report later this year which is expected to propose mechanisms for getting the most promising new therapies to patients faster and affordably. Meanwhile, an overhaul of the way cancer drugs are evaluated for the NHS is due to come in to force in July.
For admirers of the UK system, Nice should be applauded for its scepticism towards drugs that often provide just a few extra months of life, at best, for large sums of money that could be used more productively elsewhere in the NHS. “The price we can afford to pay is the point at which the benefits [of a drug] match the benefits we are going to give up as a consequence of those net costs,” says Karl Claxton, a health economist at the University of York.
“If new medicines are not being used in the UK, global companies will not invest here,” says Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.