Scots doctors call for off-patent drug law change

Drugs costing pennies could transform the lives of patients with conditions such as breast cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS) if the law is changed, a group of top doctors has said.

Making such drugs more affordable and accessible could help many people with illnesses. Picture: Jon Savage
Making such drugs more affordable and accessible could help many people with illnesses. Picture: Jon Savage

Scots doctors have spearheaded the calls from 40 clinicians to unlock cheap, off-patent drugs for new uses on the NHS by backing the Off-patents Drugs Bill in Parliament next week.

Thousands of patients are currently being denied cheap drugs which could be “repurposed” from their original aim, according to campaigners, such as an osteoporosis drug which could help breast cancer patients. Currently drugs are patented by pharmaceutical companies to protect their investment, but when this expires there is little incentive for the firms to sponsor the treatment through the process to license and approve it for use on the NHS.

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The doctors, who includes the President of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and top cancer and neurology specialists, are urging Scottish MPs to support the bill, which would make it a legal duty for the Government to step in where pharmaceutical companies have no financial incentive to act.

Professor Mike Dixon, a leading consultant breast surgeon at Edinburgh’s Breast Unit at the Western General Hospital, said: “Politicians have an opportunity to introduce a system that will remove barriers to cheap off-patent drugs being available for new innovative purposes.

“They have the power in their hands to unlock these drugs to benefit breast cancer patients across the UK.

“These off-patent drugs are not expensive and give clinicians more options. We need to have a system in place that helps the health service across the UK get these drugs to patients as quickly as possible.”

His calls were echoed by breast cancer campaigners, who said the bill could save many lives in Scotland.

Mary Allison, director for Scotland at Breast Cancer Now, said: “As research finds new and innovative uses for off-patent drugs, we need a system in place that gets this progress to patients quickly. The Bill will help us do that.”

Patients are missing out on drugs such as an antidepressant, an epilepsy treatment and an acne antibiotic that could help to treat MS, which affects more than 11,000 Scots.

Morna Simpkins, director for the MS Society in Scotland, added: “We don’t believe it is fair that off-patent drugs don’t reach the people who could benefit from them because there isn’t a system for repurposing.”