Court backs NHS in hepatitis C procurement row with AbbVie

Hepatitis Virus - 3d rendered illustration

A court has backed NHS England in a case where US pharma giant AbbVie had alleged that its procurement process for hepatitis C drugs was unfair.

NHS England aims to eliminate hepatitis C by 2025 using the ‘largest ever’ drug procurement process, inviting pharma companies to take part in the initiative worth almost a billion pounds over five years.

But AbbVie had claimed the NHS breached its duty to treat all bidders fairly and started court proceedings last year.

NHS England said the country’s High Court has dismissed all aspects of the case, claiming that the initiative had been delayed by six months because of the litigation.

In the ruling the judge rejected all challenges brought by AbbVie against NHS England’s smart procurement for the supply of curative direct acting antiviral treatments.

The drugs are intended to support a national network of hepatitis C projects that NHS England hopes will eradicate the disease.

pharmaphorum understands that contracts have not yet been awarded, and no further details have been announced about which companies are involved.

But only a handful of firms have direct-acting antiviral hepatitis C drugs approved – meaning that as well as AbbVie, pharma companies such as Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck & Co are likely to be involved in the process.

John Stewart, director of specialised commissioning at NHS England, said: “Court cases such as this are a waste of NHS resources and taxpayers’ money, in this case resulting in an unavoidable delay in our efforts to tackle the threat of hepatitis C, which disproportionately affects some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society.

“We remain committed to driving best value to help eliminate hepatitis C in England by 2025 or sooner, and with this court case behind us we can now get on with the job.”

NHS England estimated that around 160,00 people are infected with hepatitis C in England, and around half are unaware of their infection.

The disease can go undetected until the liver becomes damaged, and can be successfully cured in weeks with new oral tablets.

In 2015, NHS England established 22 Operational Delivery Networks (ODNs) to support treatment and testing efforts across the country and over 32,000 patients have been treated so far with around 95% being cured of the disease.

The 2025 target is five years earlier than goals set by the World Health Organisation.

A spokesperson for AbbVie said that the case had not delayed the process as suggested by NHS England, and that it had started the legal case to ensure “fair and effective competition” in the tender process.

A spokesperson for AbbVie said: “AbbVie remains committed to working with NHS England on the elimination strategy and continuing as participants in this procurement process.”

The Hepatitis C procurement is the latest in a series of ‘smart deals’ the NHS has introduced to drive value for the taxpayer and benefits for patients.

These include a £300 million saving after negotiating deals with five manufacturers on low cost versions of the health service’s most costly drug, AbbVie’s Humira (adalimumab).