Show ambition with UK life sciences plan, Novartis tells government

Novartis is calling on the government to set out an “ambitious vision” for the UK life sciences industrial strategy, which is to be launched on Wednesday.

The government report, headed up by immunologist and geneticist Sir John Bell is an attempt to create a ‘sector deal’ to boost the pharma, biotech and medtech, just as the country prepares to exit the European Union.

According to the Daily Telegraph, pharma industry leaders have been invited to the unveiling of the plans at Birmingham’s Institute of Translational medicine, which opened two years ago.

At the meeting Sir John Bell will lay out recommendations to boost the sector through new investment and by cutting red tape.

Prime minister Theresa May singled out life sciences as one of five priority sectors when she launched the industrial strategy in January, along with low emission vehicles, industrial digitalisation, nuclear, and creative industries.

In an interview with pharmaphorum, Barak Palatchi, general manager of Novartis oncology, UK and Ireland, said his company has a special interest in the UK, being one of the few pharma companies to have a manufacturing site in the country.

The active ingredients for many of its innovative drugs, including its latest breast cancer drug Kisqali, are manufactured in Grimsby at a plant established more than 65 years ago.

Like the rest of the pharma industry, Palatchi called on the government to address the issue of patients’ access to the latest medicines, which he said “lags far behind the rest of Europe”.

Palatchi also noted the uncertainty caused by Brexit, saying the impact it will have remains “unclear” until the UK and EU determine their future relationship.

Some of the development work on Kisqali (ribociclib) was also carried out in the UK, and Novartis is currently in negotiations with NICE, and separately with the Scottish Medicines Consortium, to try and get the medicine to market.


Novartis’ Barak Palatchi

Palatchi said: “We see this as a new opportunity for life science companies to set out a new bold, ambitious vision for the future of UK life sciences. [We want it] to support a more holistic ecosystem approach to life science policy development that links access to investment.”

“We are keen to work in collaboration with the UK government to ensure the UK’s relationship with the EU delivers for patients, the National Health Service (NHS) and our industry, ensuring patients receive timely access to new treatments.”

While he could not comment on the ongoing negotiations over Kisqali, he said that NICE must change in order to solve the issue of access to novel medicines. Palatchi said its remit must also be expanded to cover all medicines – for example, cost-effectiveness assessments of vaccines is conducted by a separate body.

One issue with NICE is that it often has issues with cancer drugs that have been approved on the basis of early-stage data – meaning it is at odds with regulators who are trying to expedite development of badly needed new medicines.

“NICE methodologies must evolve to include a more flexible decision-making framework to ensure NICE is able to recognise the full value of medicines. There is a need for greater recognition and tolerance of uncertainty,” said Palatchi.

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