U.K.'s Labour Party wants government to build its own manufacturing to lower drug prices

Drug prices are being debated in the U.K., not unlike the debates in the U.S. (Wikipedia)

The U.S. is not the only place where politicians are fed up with drug prices. In the U.K., pointing to the prices of handful of drugs like Vertex’ cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi and Roche’s breast cancer drug Perjeta, the Labor Party is threatening to force lower prices on drugmakers. That might be done, in part, by building public manufacturing to make its own drugs. 

The pledge came this week as the U.K. Labour party held its annual conference in Brighton and Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn dropped a Medicine for the Many policy paper.

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It recommends the U.K. “finance the creation, perhaps through a state investment bank, of democratically owned pharmaceutical companies with specific missions to serve the needs of the NHS.” 

The paper, among many other suggestions, says publicly funded production facilities could produce both generics and new chemical entities where prices have been jacked up because of price hikes “due to market consolidation or other reductions in manufacturing capacity (following the Civica Rx example above).”

Civica Rx is a U.S.-based organization of hospitals that have contracted with CDMO’s to produce drugs that are perpetually in shortage or that hospitals believe have gotten priced out of their reach. 

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Corbyn, who has called drug pricing “capitalism at its very worst," reports Pharmaphorum, has had particularly tough words for Vertex over the price of Orkambi. He says it should not be denied to NHS patients because of a company’s bottom line.  

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) responded to the plan's compulsory licensing requirement by saying it would “completely undermine” drug development. The provision would allow the government to give other drugmakers the right to produce generics of branded drugs early in some cases.   

Much of the pricing discussion has focused on Orkambi,  which was approved in Europe in 2015, but has been kept out of the reach of U.K. patients while the NHS and Vertex have battled over its price. In March, the stalemate led Vertex to destroy almost 8,000 expired Orkambi packs. A petition demanding that the NHS cover Orkambi has passed 100,000 signatures, triggering the debate in Parliament. The industry has countered claims of overpricing with an advertising campaign. 

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The talk in the U.K. echoes some of the rhetoric in the U.S. as next year’s presidential election heats up. A leaked copy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan for attacking drug prices includes ideas like authorizing the HHS secretary to negotiate prices for the top 250 drugs that don’t have at least two generic or biosimilar rivals. That would include the industry's biggest sellers, such as AbbVie's behemoth Humira and Merck & Co.'s powerhouse Keytruda. 

Looking toward European prices, the plan calls for an international price index to peg pharma’s U.S. prices to lower prices overseas. It would also levy steep fines to keep drugmakers in line and place limits on price hikes.