You can learn more about the Off-Patent Drugs Bill and why it's important by watching this video produced by Breast Cancer Now.
People with a brain tumour could be prevented from accessing low cost and readily available drugs that have been proven to treat their tumour because the drugs are no longer covered by a manufacturer's patent. Ask your local MP to vote in favour of the Off-Patent Drugs Bill on 6th November to ensure we change this.
Drugs can often be found to be an effective treatment for a disease for which they weren't originally licensed to treat. If the patent has expired on them however, there is no financial incentive for a pharmaceutical company to seek a new license, as they would no longer have the monopoly on the drug.
As part of our strategy to double survival, halve the harm and ultimately defeat brain tumours, we are working to ensure everyone has the same access to high quality treatment, care and information regardless of postcode, age or tumour type. As a result, we are supporting the Off-Patent Drugs Bill, championed by Breast Cancer Now, which would address one of these barriers to treatment and put the responsibility on the government to seek licenses for off-patent drugs.
Once a drug has been developed, tested and approved it is granted a license to treat a specific condition. It will also have a patent which is typically sought by the developer and gives exclusive rights to production. Patents typically last 20 years and upon expiration the drug is no longer deemed financially competitive, meaning that investment in a new license would no longer be cost effective.
Once in use, drugs can be found to be effective in tackling other conditions from that which they were originally licensed to treat. Clinicians can use drugs for these conditions in some circumstances, however this use will not be advertised on the label or contained in the licensing information. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) typically only assesses new treatments and without this guidance clinicians may not be aware of the clinical value of repurposed drugs.
Drugs licensed to treat other diseases may offer hope for people with a brain tumour. Hydroxychloroquine is a drug licensed to treat arthritis and malaria, yet early results from laboratory work have shown evidence of its potential to control the migration and invasion of cancer stem cells.
Plans are currently in place for a clinical trial to prove whether this is the case and if, in fact, hydroxcychloroquine can block the resistance of cancer cells to radiotherapy and enhance cellular repair after treatment.
If the clinical trials are a success then a licence could, in theory, be sought for hydroxcychloroquine, making it more easily accessible to patients with brain tumours. The hurdle however, would be securing the license in the first instance as there would be no financial incentive for drug companies to fund the licensing process. This is why there is an urgent need for the Off-patent Drugs Bill to be passed in November.
You can help promote The Off-Patent Drugs Bill and improve access to future treatments for people affected by a brain tumour by writing to your MP, sharing your story and urging them to turn up and vote on 6th November 2015. Ideally, we need 100 MPs to turn up and vote in favour of this Bill for it to be passed.
We have developed a template letter to help you lobby your MP and our policy team are happy to answer any questions you may have. Find your local MP here.