Charities left disappointed as drugs bill fails to win support

Off-patent drugs could help save lives, say charities
Off-patent drugs could help save lives, say charities

Disappointed charities say the Government has missed an opportunity to help thousands of patients by making low-cost medicines readily available for new purposes.

Last week, the Off-Patent Drugs Bill came before Westminster, giving MPs the option to renew the licences of drugs which could improve the lives of those with certain conditions despite being designed for another purpose.

Drugs such as an antidepressant, an epilepsy treatment and an acne antibiotic are showing “potentially-promising” results in trials for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, while drugs that cost just a few pence a day could help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

But on Friday, the Bill failed to receive enough support at Westminster despite receiving backing from health charities, MPs and the medical community.

Morna Simpkins, the MS Society’s Scotland Director said: “People with MS will feel let down by the decision of the UK Government today. This Government needs to stop dragging its heels on this crucial issue and start taking action.

“It has missed two opportunities to pave the way for cheap, promising drugs that could make such a difference to the lives of so many people with MS.

“However we recognise that the UK Government has pledged to work with organisations, such as the MS Society, to find a solution and we will continue campaigning to ensure that it lives up to that promise.

“While this is a reserved issue, we are also calling on the Scottish Government to take what action it can to drive this forward and help change lives.”

Mary Allison, Scottish director of Breast Cancer Now said: “We are very disappointed with the rejection of the Off-Patent drugs Bill in Parliament.

“It’s a missed opportunity to improve care for people across the UK, including Scotland.

“By making cheap off-patent drugs more easily available, this Bill could have helped save lives. There is a strong coalition in favour of unlocking these drugs.

“We will continue to try and turn that strength of support into action.”

The Bill that failed

The Bill – which failed to make it through the Second Reading stage in the House of Commons on November 6 as the UK Government didn’t support the proposal – sought to make cheap off-patent drugs more easily available for new innovative uses by putting into UK law a duty on the Government to step in where there is no incentive for a pharmaceutical company to act.