Call for drug patent change

Mike Dixon. Picture: Jon Savage
Mike Dixon. Picture: Jon Savage
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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 leading Capital doctor has claimed.

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.

They have the power in their hands to unlock these drugs to benefit breast cancer patients”


Edinburgh breast cancer expert Professor Mike Dixon is among 40 top clinicians calling for MPs to unlock cheap, off-patent drugs for new uses on the NHS by backing the Off-patents Drugs Bill in Parliament next week.

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.

The medics – including Ian Ritchie, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh – are urging Scottish MPs to support the bill, which would make it a legal duty for the government to step in where there is no incentive for a pharmaceutical company to act.

Prof Dixon, 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 a range of drugs including 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, said: “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 system for repurposing.

“We are asking our Scottish MPs to consider the impact on the lives of people with MS, and the range of other conditions that could benefit from more drugs, and vote in support of this bill to put a much needed mechanism in place.”