A PRESTIGIOUS Scottish charity has called for a public institute to be set up in the UK as an alternative to “big pharma”.

Instead of private companies, the centre could develop drugs on a not-for-profit basis to cut NHS costs and reduce the harm caused by the over-prescription of drugs.

“The way most medicines and many treatments are devised and prescribed is too often driven by the forces of profit and protectionism,” said Dr Simon Gage, director of ­Edinburgh Science.

“This is despite most of the ­basic ­research being funded by the ­taxpayer. Over-prescription, high prices ­preventing ubiquitous ­access, a lack of interest in widespread ­diseases ­perceived to be unprofitable and a reluctance to share trial results are some of the symptoms of the ­current set-up.

“All get in the way of optimising the health of the global population.”

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Dr Gage said the UK would benefit from looking to Italy’s Mario Negri Research Institute which has had an “immeasurable” impact on the world of medicine and improving people’s lives.

In recognition of its work, the ­charity is presenting the institute with its Edinburgh Medal. Previous winners have included David ­Attenborough and Jane Goodall but, rather than honour an individual this year, the charity has decided to award the institute.

“The Mario Negri Research ­Institute sees the world differently, and it is its open-access approach to research in health that we applaud and feel inspired by,” said Dr Gage.

“The Edinburgh Medal recognises pioneers from the world of science who act to better society; this year’s award to a world-class research institute that shows us a different approach to improving global health could not be more fitting. It provokes us to ask why the UK doesn’t have its own institute of this type and to even go further to call for one to be founded.”

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Since its establishment in 1961, the biomedical research centre has introduced a drug for heart attack patients which has saved millions of lives. The Institute has also reduced the need for dialysis for patients with chronic kidney disease and improved ­quality of life for transplant patients by ­expanding the donor pool to ­include older donors. Another drug it has ­developed is trabectedin, which has improved survival outcomes for patients with a rare form of sarcoma – a type of cancer which develops in bones and soft tissues.

Dr Gage said recognition of the institute’s importance was particularly relevant in the wake of the race to develop vaccines during the Covid pandemic, which saw richer ­countries benefiting from the drugs before those that were less well off.

“We think their approach to ­undertaking medical research and developing cures and treatments, in a way that is entirely accessible to the public and for the whole world to use free of patents and regulation, is a great example and shines a spotlight on the difficulties the world had in developing the Covid vaccines, where it was essentially a commercial race to get the vaccine out there and there were nations who got theirs slower than others,” he said.

“We thought it would be good to applaud what they do and ­recognise their innovative approach to ­illustrate to the world that there is a different way to going about the development of cures and medicines that, if more widely adopted, would benefit the global population in way that is not currently seen.”

Dr Gage added: “If we had a similar institute to the Mario Negri, we could develop the drugs the research has led to and they would be available for anyone to produce,” he said.

“That should lead to lower NHS costs because there would be less need to generate profit in the delivery of the drug.

“There would also be less of an incentive to over-prescribe – there is quite a lot of harm caused by the over-prescription of drugs because drugs companies want to make the most of their investment and want as many people to use them as possible.

“The Mario Negri Institute is a great example of a different way of ­going about producing drugs and treatments, and if there were one in the UK, we would be better for it,” said Dr Gage.

Institute director Giuseppe Remuzzi will visit Edinburgh to receive the medal on behalf of the centre.

He said he was honoured to ­accept it as the passion and ­sacrifice of all the researchers who had worked for the centre had been ­“absolutely vital” as preserving the institute’s independence “comes at a high price”.

“The Edinburgh Medal also recognises the contributions of all the students we have trained, particularly the impressive number of more than 900 international students who have trained at the Mario Negri,” he said.

“Many now occupy important ­positions, including advisors to the ministry of health in their home countries, in leading ­international transplant ­organisations, or advisers in senior management roles ­within ­universities; one of our former ­students served as dean of the ­Universidad Austral de Chile. We are particularly proud to have played a role in their education.”