Want New Medicines? Stay Away from Great Britain

Explains Peter Pitts of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest:

Experimental cures are often the last hope for dying patients in the U. K. health system. Thanks to the British government, however, many sick Britons will soon have their last hopes dashed.

Why? Pharmaceutical companies from around the world have been scaling back clinical research in the United Kingdom, largely because of government parsimony. And British citizens have paid the price.

Britain’s National Health Service seems to have made Britain inhospitable to new drug research. By covering only the lowest-cost treatment options and denying patients access to more expensive breakthrough drugs, the NHS has erected serious roadblocks for companies trying to develop new cures.

The main culprit is Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, the government agency responsible for comparing the effectiveness of different treatment options. Using the institute’s studies, the British government determines which treatments to cover and which ones aren’t worth the cost.

When the NHS decides not to cover a drug — as happened recently with the new macular degeneration drug Avastin — it hinders the ability of drug companies to recoup research and development expenses. That means less money for research into tomorrow’s cures.

Such practices don’t just fleece pharmaceutical research firms; they also make British patients less-than-appealing subjects for clinical trials.

Think about it. You wouldn’t want to conduct a taste-test of a new soft drink by giving one test group the new beverage and another group a warm glass of tap water. Obviously those who tasted the soda would react better. Similarly, comparing an experimental cancer drug to the low-quality treatments that many in Britain receive won’t reveal how effective the new drug is.

America has its own set of problems with health care, but the failings of socialized systems are far more grievous and fundamental.