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by Alison Culpan, ABPI Scotland
05 April 2022
Associate Feature: Investing in the medicines of today, for the breakthroughs of tomorrow

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Associate Feature: Investing in the medicines of today, for the breakthroughs of tomorrow

Medicines bring huge value to NHS patients. They are a vital part of our health service and help to save and transform the lives of patients across Scotland. From curing an infection to treating cancer, from soothing pain to preventing disease, we need access to medicines to keep people alive and healthy. New innovative treatments are being sought by patients and their doctors every day. It is marvelous to be part of an industry that is so important but until Covid struck very few people knew much about what we did – or the challenges involved in bringing new medicines to the public. 

Even when released, it can take a whole generation for innovative medicines to become mainstream. There are many examples of this, penicillin was already around but it took the second world war for it to become widely available. We want patients in Scotland to reap the benefits of new medicines at pace not only so they can feel better and do more, but often innovative medicines take some of the burden off the NHS due to fewer appointments and hospital admissions.

 Medicines and vaccines have an incredible track record over many decades of treating and preventing diseases right around the world. In the UK, they’ve contributed to an extra 10 years of life expectancy since the 1960s, a doubling of cancer survival over the last 40 years, and HIV has gone from a certain death sentence to a chronic disease for those patients that get access to the right medicines.

 In its breakdown of NHS funding in the year 2020/21, Audit Scotland says that out of a total Scottish Government health budget including COVID-19 funding of £18 billion, £2.7 billion was spent on drug and medical supplies, representing 15% of the health budget. The average number of prescriptions issued in the community per head of population is 19. We believe that this demonstrates great value for money.

 Companies can’t just pick a price for a medicine and there are controls in place to give NHS Scotland predictability on its medicines budget. The price of medicines in the UK is controlled by statutory and non-statutory regulation schemes. These depend on whether the medicine is branded or generic. Since 1957, the UK government has operated a voluntary pricing scheme (VPAS) with the pharmaceutical industry for branded medicines. 

 The overarching objectives of the VPAS are to balance access, affordability, and innovation, while ensuring predictability for the industry and the NHS. 

 Payments received by the DHSC are allocated to the devolved administrations. The Scottish Government has historically ring-fenced this money for spending on new medicines via the New Medicines Fund. This fund gives patients in Scotland access to new drugs which are not normally paid for by the NHS.

 This industry rebate, (£90m to NHS Scotland in 2020), provides health boards with financial support to enable patients to access the latest innovative treatments. VPAS was recognised by Audit Scotland as a factor in helping stabilise NHS Scotland medicines spending. Tracking the uptake of innovative medicine is crucial to the sustainability of this arrangement and ABPI has called on boards to publish, annually, spending on new medicines from the New Medicines Fund. 

Looking to the future, the pharmaceutical industry will continue to spend hundreds of billions of pounds to develop new medicines. 7,000 medicines are in development but many of those medicines will never reach the patient, because many of them will fail in the 10 to 12 years it takes to develop them.

Producing medicines is a high risk, very expensive process but it’s worth going through the highs and the lows, and investing billions of pounds, in order to find cures and treatments to keep us alive and well. That’s exactly what pharmaceutical companies do.

This article is sponsored by ABPI.

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