At the same time, the NHS gains very little benefit from the income that the parallel traders make and the trade can also lead to confusion and loss of patient trust in their therapy, the Social Market Foundation seminar was told.
The comments were made by Dr Trevor Jones, Director General of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), who emphasised the level of investment that is currently made in the search for new medicines in the UK - nearly £9 million a day - but warned that parallel trade put this at risk.
"If we cannot continue to earn these revenues in the UK - and, indeed, elsewhere - we certainly will not be able to continue to maintain the level of R&D that we currently do nor, importantly, to retain and attract inward investment from companies headquartered overseas," Dr Jones said.
He added: "Ask the parallel traders how much money they are investing in medical research for new products from the profits they are making. I think you will find them silent on this issue!" And he went on to point out that parallel trade - although quite legitimate - reduces the money available to the industry for its research into tomorrow's medicines.
The NHS gains a small 'clawback' by assuming that pharmacists purchase a certain amount of parallel-traded medicines. But Dr Jones quoted a recent London School of Economics study as showing that the NHS saving, including the clawback, amounts to about £39m while the parallel importers themselves made some £325m - nearly ten times as much.
Dr Jones also expressed concern about the effect of receiving parallel-traded medicines on the patient, particularly for older people who are the biggest users of medicines. Because parallel traders are required to repackage, rebox or overstick labels, the medicine's appearance is often different from the original.
In some cases, where overstickers are used, the instructions on the calendar pack may remain in a foreign language with only the other information - name, batch number, expiry dates, etc - in English. The difficulty is compounded when the parallel traders switch sourcing their supply from one country to another, with the original language also thus changing.
"This can result in a considerable loss of confidence in the therapy and, at worst, patients become uncertain, worried as to whether they have been given the correct tablets and may either miss doses or stop taking the course of treatment," said Dr Jones.
Also speaking at the seminar was Donald MacArthur, Secretary General of the European Association of Euro-Pharmaceutical Companies.
For further information, please contact: ABPI Press Office 020 7747 1410