Labour sets focus on pharma companies, in a controversial declaration

At the annual Labour party conference in Brighton, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn announced his plans ‘to take on pharmaceutical companies.’

The initiative called Medicines for Many, was created to take aim at pharma companies that were placing shareholders earnings over people’s health and access to treatments. Aspects of the proposal included that patented drugs would be subject to compulsory or ‘Crown Use’ licensing which would mean that generic versions of these drugs could be manufactured at lower costs. The initiative also outlined a plan for a state-owned pharmaceutical company which would manufacture these generic medicines. This state-owned company would then go and sell its generics to the NHS and re-invest profits into “publicly funded research and development facilities.”

The Labour party leader was keen to highlight the case of Luis Walker, a CF patient who has been at the forefront of a multitude of campaigns for access to Vertex’s Orkambi. The public battle between the pharma company and NHS/NICE has been very publicly covered and met with overt criticism as frustrated patient groups have decided to bypass the system to source generic copies of the drug and establish a buyer’s club. Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the fact that Luis Walker cannot get access to this treatment because Vertex pharmaceuticals refuses to sell the drug to the NHS for an affordable price.

The British Pharmaceutical Industry has not taken this news well and responded that the proposal of compulsory licensing is not the right answer. Richard Torbett, executive director of commercial policy at the ABPI, recognized how the Luis Walker case is an unacceptable situation but that ‘commercial licensing’ which is ultimately seizure of new research, is not the answer. It would undermine the system for developing new medicines and send a negative signal to British scientists and discourage research in the UK.

Richard Torbett also highlighted the issue that the proposed plans would severely impact SME pharma companies, companies that are critical in the development of innovative medicine.

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