Medical Research - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:52 pm on 28th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Ryder of Wensum Lord Ryder of Wensum Conservative 7:52 pm, 28th March 2017

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate with his opening speech. We listened to that with great attention and I congratulate him on it.

I used to be chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research but the views expressed today are my own. I make one point only: there is a pressing need to reform the 2007 European paediatric regulation which hampers cancer medicine for children by denying them access to the latest drugs. Pharmaceutical companies use a loophole in the EU legislation to avoid trialling cancer drugs in children, despite evidence that they could benefit patients. In fact, an analysis of data from the European Medicines Agency over the past five years shows that the loophole prevented no fewer than 33 new cancer drugs being evaluated in children.

Children’s cancers are rare. There is little financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs for children. The 2007 loophole enables these companies to ignore children by trialling drugs only on adults. In particular, children miss out on treatments that target genetic causes in cancer. As we know, cancer drugs are now more targeted on specific mutations. This means that an adult’s cancer drug could also combat the same mutation in children’s cancer.

The Institute of Cancer Research is at the forefront of paediatric research in Europe. We must enable its scientists and others around the United Kingdom to use their expertise to the maximum. Innovation should not be suppressed by the 2007 regulation. While we remain in the European Union, the Government must put pressure on the Commission to revise the 2007 regulation. Likewise, after we leave the European Union, the Government must giver freer rein to our own outstanding scientists and medical researchers so that they can do everything possible to vanquish childhood cancers.