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Roche CEO attacks Britain’s ‘stupid’ cancer drug system

September 9, 2015
Life sciences

(Reuters) – Roche Chief Executive Severin Schwan criticized Britain’s health system on Tuesday after two of the company’s cancer drugs were dropped from use, calling it a “stupid” way to control costs that could jeopardize research in the country.

He also criticized India, an emerging economic powerhouse, for not doing more to increase its spending on healthcare.

Roche, as the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs, has had frequent run-ins with Britain over its system for curbing use of medicines that are not considered cost effective.

The latest clash came on Friday, when a government fund that helps patients receive cancer drugs not routinely paid for by the National Health Service said it would no longer pay for a number of medicines.

The Swiss drugmaker’s Avastin for certain cancers and Kadcyla for breast cancer were among products “de-listed” by the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).

Schwan said the decision failed to recognize the value such medicines offered society by keeping patients out of hospital and allowing them to remain productively employed.

“It’s stupid from a cost point of view not to look at the overall cost of healthcare,” he told a media briefing.

“This is really sad for patients and I have no understanding for this decision whatsoever … there is a fundamental flaw in how the UK operates when it comes to pricing for medicine.”

The CDF, defending the cuts last week, said it had to make difficult choices but that it was its duty to ensure maximum value for money.

Schwan said there would be also knock-on effects for research in Britain, since if drugs like Avastin were not available as standard then Roche would not be able to do certain clinical trials in the country.

“Eventually, this will hurt us on the research side in the UK. This is just a bad decision, not only for patients but also for society as a whole,” Schwan said.

Britain’s pharmaceuticals industry also complained this week about the country’s slow adoption of new medicines in clinical practice, although drug companies also face hurdles in getting the latest drugs prescribed in other European markets.

The Roche boss had harsh words for India, too, saying the country was not spending enough as a percentage of its gross domestic product on healthcare, estimating it at only about 1 percent to 2 percent.

He said that salvos targeting drug companies over the high cost of medicines in developing countries were distractions from this more important issue.

“You have a real lack of healthcare infrastructure which doesn’t even enable generic companies to bring medicines to the Indian population,” Schwan said.

By John Miller (Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Pravin Char)

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