By the way... Stop ig­nor­ing these life-sav­ing drugs

Daily Mail - - Good Health -

SOME peo­ple may not re­alise Viagra was orig­i­nally in­tended as a treat­ment for a form of high blood pres­sure.

How­ever, while con­duct­ing the ini­tial re­search, its de­vel­op­ers dis­cov­ered, by chance, that it pro­duced other ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects. This led to fur­ther re­search and li­cens­ing, and the rest is his­tory.

There are many other drugs that are found to have other sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits, of­ten long af­ter their launch.

One ex­am­ple is zole­dronic acid, one of a group of drugs called bis­pho­s­pho­nates. These were de­vel­oped for os­teo­poro­sis, but when given to pa­tients with breast cancer, the drug can greatly im­prove the prospects of sur­vival, min­imis­ing the spread of cancer to the bone by 28 per cent.

How­ever, zole­dronic acid is not li­censed for this pur­pose. What this means is that doc­tors can pre­scribe it for breast cancer, but this is on an ‘off li­cence’ or ‘off-la­bel’ ba­sis.

And not all have the nerve to do so, as it means tak­ing full re­spon­si­bil­ity and hav­ing less pro­tec­tion against lit­i­ga­tion should some­thing go wrong.

There­fore, most doc­tors ad­here to rigid pre­scrib­ing rules — and who can blame them in an in­creas­ingly liti­gious so­ci­ety?

There’s a cam­paign to change the law that gov­erns the li­cens­ing sys­tem to avoid this prob­lem. When a drug com­pany wants a new drug li­censed for treat­ment, it has to show through clin­i­cal tri­als that it works for that pur­pose — this is an ex­pen­sive busi­ness, but the com­pany re­coups those costs through the price it charges for the drug.

How­ever, once the patent on a drug has ex­pired, typ­i­cally af­ter ten years, the price of the drug plum­mets as any com­pany can now make it. And so there is no fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to pay for more re­search into another use for that drug.

Last month, a Bill to change the reg­u­la­tions had its sec­ond read­ing in Par­lia­ment, but was ‘talked out’ by Alis­tair Burt, the MP for North East Bed­ford­shire — he used up the time re­main­ing to de­bate the Bill, so it was ef­fec­tively re­jected.

The Bill had the sup­port of lead­ing doc­tors, in­clud­ing the Royal Col­lege of Physi­cians, and Mr Burt’s be­hav­iour was shame­ful.

I agree whole­heart­edly with the com­ment of Baroness De­lyth Mor­gan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Breast Cancer Now, who says: ‘The Govern­ment has let pa­tients down and missed the chance to save lives at lit­tle cost to the NHS.’

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