U.K. pharmacy group wants drug exports stopped

While other countries have drug shortages tied to manufacturing debacles and plant closures, the U.K. is blaming the problem on parallel trade. The government is being urged by a pharmacy group there to consider banning drug exports.   

Because of EU trade rules and a weak pound, wholesalers are sourcing drugs in the U.K. then selling their supplies to countries where they can make more money, Reuters reports. The All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) told government officials the problem has gotten worse over the last four years and it needs to find a way to block the practice or patients in the U.K. will suffer.

The APPG reports that during a 6-month investigation it learned that some patients had to be hospitalized when they couldn't get critical medications. Drug shortages were affecting patients being treated for serious conditions like epilepsy, schizophrenia and diabetes. 

Most medications are supplied through big wholesalers like Celesio and Alliance Boots, but there area about 1,800 wholesalers licensed there, Reuters reports. It says parallel trading has long been an issue for big drug companies like AstraZeneca ($AZN), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and ($PFE) Pfizer.

The problem has been on the minds of regulators for some time, although  the European Medicines Agency has said it has not found evidence that the practice is causing drug shortages. Experts say there can be price differentials of as much as 200% between markets, although a spread of 10% is enough for a wholesalers to pull supplies from one and sell to another.  

The problem is not unique to the U.K., Reuters says. Greece, which has slashed the prices it will pay for drugs in the face of the economic crisis there, is seeing the same problem. France--which also has cut drug reimbursements to save money--is considering banning drug experts, the story says.

APPG chairman Kevin Barron told officials that there are provisions within European legislation for the government to exempt some products from free trade if there were a threat to public health.

"The problem of medicines shortages is an extremely serious one, and our report shows clearly that patients are suffering harm as a result of not being able to get crucial medicines," Barron said.

- read the Reuters story