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