UK prices for generic cancer drugs have risen sharply in the past five years, restricting their use in treating NHS patients, research from the European Cancer Congress has found. Drugs such as tamoxifen and bulsufan are now 10 times more expensive despite no longer being under patent. The British Generic Manufacturers Association said trusts often paid much less than the list price. It said the NHS had benefited from competition over generic drugs. But the UK researchers said NHS negotiations with drug companies were failing to contain costs, and getting access to cheaper drugs would allow more people to be treated with more modern medicines. They estimated that the cost of these price rises to the NHS in England was around £380m a year – which only included community-based prescribing, not hospital prescribing. Drugs start off being on-patent, and their high prices allow pharmaceutical companies to profit from their investments in research and development. After patents have expired and generic versions are sold, the theory is that drug prices should fall close to the cost of production. However, because of high drug prices, the NHS is often not able to approve some new cancer drugs for use. New treatments then have to be rationed. Dr Andrew Hill, senior research fellow in pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Liverpool, and Melissa Barber from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, collected prices on medicines available on the NHS for their presentation at the cancer conference. They discovered that busulfan, which is used to treat leukaemia, cost 21p per tablet in 2011 and £2.61 in 2016. Tamoxifen, used to treat breast cancer, cost 10p per tablet in 2011 and £1.21 in 2016. Of 89 cancer medicines looked at in the analysis, 21 showed price rises from 2011 to 2016 – with 17 of those classified as generic. Fourteen generic cancer drugs showed price rises of more than 100%. And compared with prices for the same drugs in India, the UK drugs were roughly 20 times more expensive.

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