Thanks to breakthroughs in research several existing drugs have been found to be effective in treating conditions other than the ones they were originally made and patented for.
These drugs are known as ‘off-patent’ and in order for them to be made routinely available they need to be licensed and approved for their new uses. These drugs are safe and cheap but because they are re-purposed these drugs are not getting to all patients who may benefit from them. The major hurdle in this process is the way drugs are licenced in the UK.
Barriers to licensing
Rather than price being a restriction, it is the lack of a pharmaceutical company to sponsor the treatment that presents a significant barrier to these re-purposed drugs reaching patients.
Because the price of a drug substantially falls once a patent has expired, there is little incentive for a pharmaceutical company to sponsor the licensing process for an off-patent treatment and the UK has no system in place to enable old drugs to be re-licenced for new purposes.
What the Bill would do
That is why Nick Thomas-Symonds MP has introduced the Off-patent Drugs Bill in Parliament, which Bloodwise are supporting alongside a number of other organisations led by Breast Cancer Now.
The Bill would put into UK law a duty on the government to act in the public interest to license and approve off-patent drugs for use on the NHS, when they have been shown to be effective in their new purpose by the necessary trials and journal articles.
The Bill could benefit a huge number of patients across a range of diseases including blood, breast and prostate cancers, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It also presents a crucial opportunity to take advantage of inexpensive drugs that have benefits beyond their intended uses.
The use of off-patent drugs to treat blood cancer
The ‘redeployment’ of drugs originally developed to treat other conditions has had notable success in recent years in the blood cancer field. Thalidomide, which was originally developed in the 1950s for the control of morning sickness in pregnancy, has now become part of standard treatment for the blood cancer, myeloma.
Because Thalidomide is off-patent it is cheap and relatively well evaluated, and its use has since sparked the development of similar promising drugs for myeloma – a disease where new therapies are desperately needed.
How you can help
In order for the Bill to become law enough MPs need to attend its crucial second reading debate on Friday 6 November and vote in favour of the Bill. The vote is on Friday, when most MPs return to their local constituencies, which will make it more difficult to get a large number of MPs in Parliament to support the Bill. That is why we’re joining up with other organisations in calling on MPs to attend the debate and vote in favour of the Bill.
To find out more about the Bill and email your MP to encourage them to back it, visit Breast Cancer Now’s ‘Unlocking off-patent drugs’ campaign page.