Skip to main content

Call for compulsory licensing in the UK – a new approach to Pharma IP and research?

by Futures Centre, Apr 3
3 minutes read

A coalition of doctors, patients’ groups and campaigners in the UK has made the first call for a patent on a life-saving drug to be set aside in a rich country, potentially signalling a new approach to intellectual property (IP) in the pharmaceutical industry.

call for compulsory fc

It is now fifteen years since the heated global debate around the high cost of anti-retroviral drugs for HIV was resolved. A few countries such as India were permitted to make and sell cheap generic copies of the drugs for African countries that could not afford the artificially high cost of the patented versions, under a process known as compulsory licensing. At the time it was assumed that rich countries would continue to pay full price for pharmaceuticals under patent.

However a convergence of factors – such as ageing populations and the ongoing austerity agenda resulting from the 2008 financial crisis – means that some new patented drugs are becoming too expensive for healthcare systems in rich countries like the UK. Advanced cancer drugs in particular are often rationed due to the extremely high cost of the patented versions, despite the fact that the drugs themselves are cheap to make. A particularly eye-catching example of this is the drug T-DM1, marketed as Kadcyla by the pharmaceutical company Roche. T-DM1 is highly effective against stage four breast cancer, extending lives with far fewer side effects than chemotherapy. However at an initial cost of £90,000 per patient per year, Kadcyla was the most expensive breast cancer drug ever marketed, and despite recent price reductions it remains too expensive for use by the NHS.

In October 2015, a coalition of doctors, patients and campaigners made a radical proposal to the UK’s health secretary Jeremy Hunt, calling for the government to set aside the patent on Kadcyla and issue a compulsory licence so that cheap generic versions can be manufactured or imported. This is permitted under UK law as long as the company is given ‘affordable compensation’. One of the signatories, Doctor Chris Redd, said “There are 1,500 UK citizens living with breast cancer right now, who could be kept alive by this medication. The solutions are all there in the document. The only question that remains is whether our government is more interested in protecting its citizens or the shareholders of a multinational drug company.” The UK government – caught between vocal patients’ groups on one hand and lobbyists for Big Pharma on the other – is still considering the proposal.


  • Topic: Health
  • Other Tags: Health
by Futures Centre Spotted 1994 signals

Have you spotted a signal of change?

Register to receive the latest from the Futures Centre.
Sign up

  • 0
  • Share

Related signals

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We'd also like to set optional analytics cookies to help us improve it. We won't set optional cookies unless you enable them. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookies page.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics cookies

We'd like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone. For more information on how these cookies work, please see our 'Cookies page'.