What does the government do?
Patents protecting therapeutic innovations have a shelf life of 20 years, during which a cheaper generic version cannot be launched. However, the government does not use available tools to oppose this, such as compulsory licenses. This provision means that a patent can be temporarily suspended and the market opened up to competition in order to produce or import generics and reduce prices. The UK Patents Act 1977, provides for the grant of compulsory licences under patents in circumstances where it can be established that there has been an abuse of the monopoly rights in relation to such patents. In practice though, compulsory licences are rarely applied for in the UK.
What does the government say?
“The government intends to reform the way in which drugs purchased by the NHS are priced. It aims to ensure that drug costs more fully reflect clinical benefit and to improve patient access to new treatments”
In a bid to provide access to innovative and quality treatment at the best price for patients and the National Health Service, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the use of expensive drugs such as Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) to allow the British public access to new medicines. However, the NHS is forced to delay its introduction due to its highly expensive price. Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) can save the lives of people infected with the hepatitis C virus and is currently recognised by NICE as “cost-effective”, because it is a cure for people who would otherwise run up huge NHS bills.
NICE judge’s medicines and their suitability for the NHS using a Quality-adjusted life year score (QALYS). QALYs are calculated by estimating the years of life remaining for a patient following a particular treatment or intervention and weighting each year with a quality-of-life score (on a 0 to 1 scale). It is often measured in terms of the person’s ability to carry out the activities of daily life, and freedom from pain and mental disturbance.
One in three people infected with hepatitis C will develop liver cirrhosis and some will get cancer. At this stage of the disease, a liver transplant is the only option. Currently, this operation costs more than £50,000 on the NHS and poses complex donor and recipient concerns. Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) can be used to prevent this and when combined with Ribavirin it cures 95% of patients. As the Government pushes for innovative treatments that provide clinical benefit, Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) is a prime example of the medicines we should be able to access. Due to Sofosbuvir and Ribavirin’s combinational costs, a cost of £1bn for every 20,000 people treated on the NHS, leaves the Government and NHS caught at a cross-road between prices or patients.