Investing in new treatments is a risky business. Nineteen out of 20 medicines fail. This is a dispiriting figure and it is one that we all want to improve upon. Yet it is what it is. We must strive to improve research productivity, but we must also continue to fund the research that will produce the next generation of medicines.


We owe it to patients to keep trying. For them, the rewards of success are literally life-changing, extending and improving lives, transforming diseases which were once viewed as death sentences into manageable conditions.

New treatments provide the tools to allow the many brilliant health professionals working in our NHS to the very best for their patients. Yet these treatments are only available because of deliberate choice, not chance. Investment in research and development is just that; a down payment for the future.

As with any down payment, it has to be funded. In the context of medicines, this means paying a fair price for the fruits of previous research so that future research can be funded. Without this the cycle is broken. Today’s report in the Telegraph about Pfizer’s concerns about the UK’s attitude towards innovation should serve as a wake-up call.

Medicines prices in the UK are already among the lowest in Europe. Indeed total medicine costs in the UK represent 0.9% of GDP per annum, compared to a 1.7% average for comparable major European countries.

Medicines may be an easy target for savings, but they are the wrong target. Expenditure on medicines is already under control and is dropping as a proportion of the overall NHS budget.

A short term attitude to paying for medicines will result in a long term problem in developing the next generation of medicines. The NHS has a decision to make. Does it view spending on medical progress as an investment or a cost? The ability of this and future generations of patients to gain access to the best treatments depends on the answer.

Stephen Whitehead
ABPI Chief Executive

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