Medicines and Medical Devices Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:22 pm on 2nd September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Crossbench 6:22 pm, 2nd September 2020

My Lords, I declare an interest as chief executive of the research and care charity Breast Cancer Now and as chair of the National Cancer Research Institute.

I would like to start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and her colleagues on her committee, for her report and her compelling contribution today; it was incredibly moving. I, too, will be supporting steps to see this Bill serve as a vehicle for the implementation of her recommendations, most notably, as so many Peers have commented today, the establishment of a patient safety commissioner.

This Bill covers two areas of particular concern to cancer patients that I wish to emphasise today, which others have touched on, too. These are access to clinical trials and speed of access to newly licensed medicines. For the estimated 35,000 women living with incurable secondary breast cancer in the UK, clinical trials can provide early access to potential new treatments which might extend the time before their disease progresses, which might extend their lives and which can improve quality of life. These women often have few treatment options available to them, and clinical trials really do offer people with incurable secondary breast cancer and other cancers hope for the future. I do not want us to underestimate the value of that in these debates.

Research is, as we have heard, underpinned by pan-European and international collaboration. As an example, over 4,800 EU clinical trials involved the UK between 2004 and 2016. That is a significant number of important trials. The new EU clinical trials regulation, which we have already heard about today, will improve patient safety and streamline the process for setting up new trials, and this is vital. The Government made an extremely welcome commitment in 2018 to align as closely as possible with the new regulation, and it is essential that this commitment is restated and honoured. Today is an opportunity for that. However, without access to the infrastructure that clinical trials require, such as the portal and the database to support the regulation system, it will become much more difficult to run clinical trials across borders; that has already been talked about today.

Where trials show that medicines are safe and effective, it is vital that they are licensed and made available to patients as quickly as possible. We have heard today that the EMEA area represents 25% of global pharmaceutical sales and the UK just 3%. These are important numbers to bear in mind. If the pharmaceutical companies have to make a separate application to the MHRA, and incur additional costs, to license their medicines, delays are likely in those medicines becoming available in the UK. This is a threat to timely access for patients to new medicines, and its importance should not be underestimated.

We are also particularly concerned about access to medicines developed by small pharmaceutical companies. Can the Minister give some reassurance to patients with secondary breast cancer and other incurable cancers that access to clinical trials and newly licensed medicines will not be adversely impacted by the effects of this Bill? I look forward to hearing from the Minister.