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NHS slams big pharma in High Court row over drug pricing powers

The NHS has accused big pharmaceutical firms of making spurious arguments to mount a High Court challenge to drug pricing powers designed to keep a lid on Britain’s medicines bill.
An industry trade body dominated by overseas drugs giants including Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi faces allegations from top health sector managers that it is pursuing an “unarguable” and “makeweight” judicial review. In court papers seen by The Sunday Telegraph, NHS England urges judges to throw out the challenge by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), a body representing the UK’s ?63bn life sciences industry.
The row is over powers introduced in April giving NHS England the right to ration costly medicines, including if they are expected to cost more than ?20m in any of their first three years of use. Previously medicines signed off as clinically effective and good value for money by public drug price regulator Nice had to be automatically funded and made available by the NHS within three months. 
NHS slams big pharma in High Court row over drug pricing powers

Drug firms argue higher prices are justified by research spending and medical breakthroughs

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YAY Media AS / Alamy
The challenge, currently being considered by judges, is the latest flashpoint in a running bitter battle between drugmakers and the NHS over rising drug prices, as the health service struggles to meet the rising expense of complex next generation medicines.
The drugmakers argue the changes will limit patients’ access to cutting-edge treatments, particularly for rare diseases where the benefits are large but the patient numbers are small. In their claim the drug firms argue Nice acted beyond its powers to introduce the so-called budget impact test and failed to consult properly with ­industry on the detail of the proposals.
But the public bodies refute these claims, arguing they had the right to make the changes and consulted widely. They argue expensive treatments can still clear the various hurdles if the benefits can be proven.
NHS slams big pharma in High Court row over drug pricing powers

The NHS is under pressure to make budgets stretch as far as possible

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© Julian Claxton / Alamy
The challenge has been brought against Nice, with NHS England named as an interested party. While the ABPI speaks for the British drugs industry, its 16-strong board is dominated by 14 overseas conglomerates.
The Sunday Telegraph revealed in July that the impetus for the judicial ­review came from these overseas members, with the only two British board members, the FTSE 100’s AstraZeneca and GSK, distancing themselves. At the time the ABPI said it was backed by a “majority” of the board.
But this week the ABPI insisted there was “complete unanimity across the industry on the issue”. GSK said its position had not changed.
Dr Richard Torbett, executive director at the ABPI, added: “These are exceptional circumstances, but given the impact that these new measures will have on NHS patients and our members, we believe the application for ­judicial review is the right thing to do.”
Consultation responses highlighted that patient groups were divided on the powers, with some, including Prostrate UK, saying they were “very concerned” about their potential impact.
Some of the latest therapies, including one-time genetic treatments for cancer such as Novartis’ breakthrough drug Kymriah for a form of leukaemia, cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.  Nice declined to comment and NHS England was unavailable for comment.
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