Debates between Lord O'Shaughnessy and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 28th Oct 2020
Medicines and Medical Devices Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Medicines and Medical Devices Bill

Debate between Lord O'Shaughnessy and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 28th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 View all Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 116-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (26 Oct 2020)
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, that was a very interesting opening speech from the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I am very glad to have put my name to his amendment—although, of course, he went wider and commented on the government amendments. I very much agree with his desire to minimise delay for the UK to get access to new medicines. That has been a constant theme of our debates.

There are a number of elements in this, including the attractiveness of the UK to pharma companies, for our life sciences, our approach to access to early phase trials, the regulatory system for licensing medicines and the NHS’s willingness to take up those medicines, including the role of NICE. We have debated all of those.

The Minister on the first day in Committee responded to a number of those issues and said that the Government wanted to

“build on our established strengths so that the UK has the opportunity to anchor international drug development in this country and grow that capability. I am committed to international standards, international partnerships and multi-country clinical trials … The UK works closely with many other regulators; those relationships are underpinned by many shared international standards. The EU bases its regulations on exactly those standards”.—[Official Report, 19/10/2020; cols. GC 357-8.]

The issue is, that being said, will we in the end be aligned with Europe so that companies do not have to go through separate processes in which, because the market that we offer in this country is so small compared to the EU market, we will not be a country of first choice for developing new medicines and seeking a licence?

I refer the Minister to a comment that I picked up in the last few days from Britain’s pharmaceutical industry: it has appealed to the Prime Minister to strike a swift side deal with Brussels to avoid delays and shortages of medicines if we leave at the end of the year with a no-deal Brexit. We have heard continuously from the Prime Minister that he was preparing for—indeed, he would embrace—no deal on 31 December. The Government’s departure from any rationality or seeming concern for Britain’s industry and their posturing have left industry without the agreement on mutual recognition of standards that is needed to avoid hugely costly duplication of red tape to maintain the flow of trade in vital drugs. The one phrase that the Minister has not articulated in our debate so far is “mutual recognition of standards”. The fact is, if we are seriously going into a new world where we do not believe that mutual recognition between ourselves and the EU is a sensible or serious proposition, I am afraid that all the talk about this country being an attractive place for pharma will fall on rather stony ground.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, has done a great service in bringing this matter back with a slightly different approach. I hope we can look for a positive response from the Government.

Lord O'Shaughnessy Portrait Lord O'Shaughnessy (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I speak in support of the intention of Amendment 27 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. As noble Lords know, I made my views on the Brexit approach of working with other regulators clear on the first day in Committee and I do not intend to rehearse them—I am sure that noble Lords will be relieved—but I was struck by how this might work in practice. While listening to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who gave an excellent exposition, I reflected on his story about CAR-T therapies and how that provides a good example of what we need to guard against as we move out of the EMA post Brexit.

In September 2017, I went on a visit to Pennsylvania and had the opportunity to go to Penn Medicine, which is where CAR-T was developed, in a lab sponsored by Novartis. I remember sitting down afterwards and being told about the amazing progress they had made, how this was rolling out to patients and indeed how they were thinking about the next iteration of this medicine, how useful it would be and how much demand there would be for it to be given to American dogs—that is right, dogs. I was sitting there at a time when UK patients did not have access to CAR-T therapies, but American dogs were about to get access. This in a way exemplifies a problem that we have today as part of the EMA but are likely to have tomorrow: our unwillingness to accept the decisions of other stringent regulators who make good decisions and whose processes we trust.

The idea of how we could work with other regulators as expressed in this amendment is incredibly important and could be carried out in two ways. The first is, as I said, in accepting decisions from other stringent regulators, including the FDA, the EMA, of course, and others. There has been resistance—there certainly was in my time as a Minister—about so-called rubber-stamping of other decisions and the implications for legal liability if things go wrong, but I am absolutely confident that these can be overcome. Our regulator should be prepared to accept the paperwork submitted to other regulators and the decisions of other stringent regulators where we have confidence in their processes. Ideally, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, this would be in the form of mutual recognition, but it is perfectly possible for us to do that unilaterally as well. That would go a long way to assuaging the concerns of industry.

The second way, and they are not mutually exclusive, is that the UK could lead the creation of a third global market to go alongside the FDA and EMA by working with independent regulators in Switzerland, Australia, Singapore, Canada and so on. As I say, these are approaches that we could follow in tandem as part of, I hope, a global move towards a single approach.

I am confident that we can follow these routes without causing any harm to patient safety while improving patient access. I am not convinced that they require legislation. I can understand why the noble Lord has tabled the amendment and I support its intention; I do not know that we need to change the law. What I would like to hear, and I hope other noble Lords would like the same, is a commitment from my noble friend the Minister that the Government intend to take this kind of approach. We look forward to speaking to the director of the MHRA on precisely this issue, as she has kindly agreed to meet us next week.