A MAJOR overhaul of the health innovation system is needed to avoid NHS patients being let down by an arrangement that fails to deliver the treatments they need at an affordable price and is hampered by a drive for profit.

A report yesterday – The People’s Prescription: Re-imagining health innovation to deliver public value – said such an overhaul would ensure that more drugs and treatments are developed for critical health needs.

It called for governments to act immediately by pursuing their legal right to procure affordable generic versions of patented medicines, if companies refuse to drop prices to levels affordable to authorities such as the NHS.

These rights are known as flexibilities in World Trade Organisation rules and could mean huge savings for the NHS.

The report said evidence showed the prices the UK paid for some cancer medicines could be reduced by between 75% and 99.6% if they could be procured as generics.

In April, campaigners at Just Treatment called on the Scottish Government to secure access to breast cancer drug pertuzumab (Perjeta) which the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) had deemed too expensive for the NHS in Scotland. The SMC said the price demanded by manufacturer Roche – almost £45,000 per patient for a year’s treatment – was too high to make it cost-effective.

They called on Nicola Sturgeon to use a legal mechanism known as a Crown use licence to bring down the price of the drug, which is available on the NHS in England.

The report warned that high medicine prices are causing severe patient access problems worldwide with damaging consequences for health and wellbeing.

With the system “fundamentally broken”, it recommended new policy actions to deliver public value for the greatest health need.

Professor Mariana Mazzucato, director of University College London (UCL) Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), authored the report, in collaboration with STOPAIDS, Global Justice Now and the campaign group Just Treatment. She said: “The diagnosis looks bleak for the health innovation system; it’s expensive and unproductive and requires a complete transformation.

“We have a situation now where the NHS is a huge buyer of drugs and the UK Government is a significant investor in the development of new treatments, yet big pharmaceutical companies are calling the shots.

“In the year of the 70th anniversary of the NHS, this is an ideal time to take stock and rethink the system with a move towards a model that prioritises long-term public value above short-term corporate profits.”

Among the report’s key findings were that research and development (R&D) priorities are not determined by public health needs and the system ignored diseases – such as tuberculosis – that are most prevalent in developing countries.

The number of new drugs approved against R&D spending had fallen from around 40 drugs per $1 billion (£760 million) in the 1950s to less than 0.65 drugs per $1bn spend this century, it argued, representing a huge drop in innovation and productivity.

It added that pharmaceutical companies were increasingly focused on maximising short-term financial returns to shareholders, with 19 top pharma companies spending $297bn (£225bn) on re-purchasing their own shares between 2007-16, which equated to 61% of their combined R&D expenditure in the same period.

Heidi Chow, a senior campaigns manager at Global Justice Now, said: “A pharmaceutical industry that makes billions in profits without providing the affordable medicines that people need is one of the scandals of our time.”

She added: “It’s easy to feel that there is no alternative, but in fact there are a whole host of alternatives that are already working in a number of countries.”