Pathways to Progress
Empower: Access to Medicine has released its first policy report, which has identified potential ways of tackling the current barriers to our slow and cumbersome drug development process.
Below is the foreword by Empower founder, Les Halpin.
Pathways to Progress
It has now been a little over a year since we launched this campaign and I have
been overwhelmed by the support we have had along the way. Professionals
within the pharmaceutical, medical and political communities have all opened
their doors to us to discuss the existing barriers restricting access to medicines
for life threatening illnesses. Patient groups have also been forthcoming in
sharing their stories and experiences of the current system.
I am also grateful to the individuals who joined us recently in London for an
excellent discussion, chaired by Professor Sir Peter Lachmann, looking at the
current challenges and how we can take the discussion forward constructively
via the proposed Halpin Protocol.
Unable to be there in person, I have been fascinated to read the arguments and
suggested solutions put forward in this report.
Bringing together academics, philosophers, ethicists, insurers, lawyers,
regulators, doctors and industry in such a forum was an opportunity to explore
the main issues from a variety of perspectives. I was particularly interested to
learn that Phase III trials are not, in theory, a prerequisite to licensing, and that
insurance mutuals may be a way for pharmaceuticals and biotechs to more
effectively pool risk.
What is clear to me is that there are no simple solutions, rather a variety of paths
that one could take. It certainly seems there is a significant degree of flexibility in
our existing systems of drug approval that could be better utilised to the benefit of
patients who cannot currently access satisfactory treatment. I look to America for
some of the positive headway they have made in fast tracking certain drugs and
wonder what lessons can be applied in Europe.
As alluded to in this paper, doctors still have a significant degree of power and
autonomy (in principle) to prescribe any drug that they feel will benefit patients
– but in reality this is less common than it once was. Creating the environment
where doctors and developers can use more drugs across a range of conditions
could stimulate declining development in new medicines. This in turn could
encourage innovation in treatments for less common conditions.
I am looking forward to the next steps of the campaign which will hopefully see
us take these observations and suggestions higher up the policy ladder and closer
to progress in an area that has stood still for too long.
It is through a shared understanding of the barriers that we can collectively