• Labour would seize patent rights by allowing generic versions of particular drugs to be produced
  • Jeremy Corbyn says state-run pharma company would also be created to produce generic drugs
  • Pharma industry says plans would “completely undermine the system for developing new medicines”

Jeremy Corbyn says a Labour government would create a state-run pharmaceutical company to make generic versions of drugs the NHS cannot afford.

At the party’s conference in Brighton, Mr Corbyn said “crown use” licenses would be issued, which would effectively seize patent rights by allowing generic versions of particular drugs to be produced. He said this would happen where the NHS decided it could not purchase the patented products at the price demanded by their corporate suppliers.

He used the example of cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi, which has been subject to a long running negotiation between NHS England, government and manufacturer Vertex, but is currently deemed unaffordable.

Rules set by the World Trade Organisation enable drug companies to benefit from a period of market exclusivity through patenting, which can lead to inflated prices.

But the rules include safeguards that allow governments to override this in certain instances, by issuing licences allowing other manufacturers to produce generic versions.

In June 2019, the government acknowledged it had a “moral obligation” to explore means of securing access to Orkambi, including crown use licensing.

In the longer term, Mr Corbyn said the party would:

  • create a publicly-owned pharma company to manufacture generic drugs and medicines to sell to the NHS at affordable prices;
  • attach public interest conditions to any public funding for research and development, so organisations receiving public money have to ensure patient access and affordability; and
  • replace price incentives that encourage research funding to be channelled into the most lucrative medicines with a system of grants and subsidies tied to “socially valuable” priorities such as antimicrobial resistance.

The body that represents the pharma industry criticised the plans. Richard Torbett, executive director of commercial policy at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “The situation on Orkambi is rare, but it is clearly unacceptable, and a solution needs to be found for patients and their families.

“However, ‘compulsory licensing’ – the seizure of new research – is not the answer. It would completely undermine the system for developing new medicines. It would send a hugely negative signal to British scientists and would discourage research in a country that wants to be a leader in innovation.”