Direct-to-pharmacy (DTP) distribution agreements will not stop counterfeit medicines entering the UK drug supply – in fact, they could “positively encourage” the trade, industry experts have warned.
Speaking at the annual conference of the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, David Baker, chief executive of the Dispensing Doctors Federation, forecast that an across-the-board take-up of DTP distribution programmes could lead to pharmacists looking to buy their products elsewhere, including from “less reputable sources”.
Mr Baker’s view was echoed by a number of speakers at the meeting. The new DTP arrangements represent a distortion of power, with the risk that “big pharma” may exert undue influence, even though 80% of the medicines dispensed under the NHS are supplied by manufacturers whose annual turnover is under £50m, said Keith Davies, UK logistics manager at ProStrakan.
The new agreements also threaten the current successful “mixed economy” of high-volume low-cost and low-volume high-cost products and they threaten the existence of niche products made by small companies on fixed margins, while a single-supplier system presents the risk of catastrophic failure and a loss of choice and competition.
Mr Davies agreed that with the new arrangements pioneered by Pfizer, “the genie is out of the bottle”, but stressed that any change to the system must be ordered and considered – not piecemeal and not purely for the benefit of narrow corporate interests. The new supply models should be tested to destruction, he said, calling for a moratorium on the signing of any new such deals until the Office of Fair Trading has published the results of its market study into the distribution of medicines in the UK.
The meeting was also addressed by Lord Hunt, the Minister of State for Quality at the Department of Health, who said the OFT probe would allow a very detailed examination of the situation by a wholly dispassionate group. “This is the way forward,” he said.
The minister pointed out that there have only been eight reported cases of counterfeit medicines appearing in the UK supply since 2004, showing that the problem is extremely rare. However, he said there was no room for complacency, nor should the UK’s global role be ignored.
He agreed with BAPW executive director Martin Sawer that penalties for counterfeiting should be made stronger, but did not respond to the concerns expressed by Mr Sawer over the fact, in light of the recent discoveries of counterfeit drugs in the UK supply, that the number of wholesale licenses issued by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency currently stands at more than 1,700, up from around 1,590 this time last year. Lord Hunt urged the industry to discuss its concerns with the MHRA.