Observations Body Politic

Biologically speaking, parliament decides there is no alternative

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39512.653727.59 (Published 13 March 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:588
  1. Nigel Hawkes, health editor, the Times
  1. nigel.hawkes{at}thetimes.co.uk

Drug firms are lobbying successfully against the equivalent of generic drugs for biologicals

In 2005 the health select committee of the House of Commons published a report about the influence of the drug industry. To borrow the words used by an 18th century MP about George III, the committee concluded that the drug industry’s influence had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished.

“The pharmaceutical industry’s promotional efforts are relentless and pervasive,” the report declared, as if surprised. Almost everyone had been subtly corrupted by such activity, it suggested, but it had little to say about the industry’s lobbying of parliament. Indeed, unlike the legislature in the United States, the UK parliament has no register of lobbyists.

Fast forward to last December, when a group of members of both the Commons and the Lords—including one MP who had served on the health select committee in 2005—published a “parliamentary review” on the issue of biosimilars. These are the biological equivalent of generic drugs: cheaper, “me too” products that are brought on to the market once the original patents expire. Given the high prices of modern biological drugs such as the monoclonal antibodies, the sooner that biosimilars are with us the better it is …

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