Witty to head up new U.K. speedy drug/device review system

The U.K. government has announced that former GlaxoSmithKline chief Sir Andrew Witty is to head up its new pathway that aims to get a handful of drugs and medical technologies to patients quicker than ever before.

The plans for the so-called Accelerated Access Review (AAR) will see Sir Andrew, once on the other side of the fence trying to get new drugs onto the market, decide which set of medications and devices can get through to U.K. patients at a much speedier rate. This also comes two months after he was hired by venture capital firm Hatteras Venture Partners; the firm tells me he will be staying on there, but did not answer questions about any potential conflicts of interest. 

The​ new AAR will, from April next year, allow for a batch of medical tech and treatments to begin a process which could make them available to patients up to four years earlier than the current system allows.

The government says it aims to reduce the time taken for meds deemed to have the greatest potential to change lives to “negotiate the evaluation and financial approvals necessary” before the National Health Service (NHS) can buy them.

This pathway, which would in effect bypass the country’s health technology assessment systems, comes at a time when the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is set to leave its current base in London in the wake of the Brexit vote. A plan is still being devised as to what long-term process will be in place for making regulatory decisions on new drugs across the U.K. if and when it is no longer under the auspices of the EMA.

RELATED: EMA, facing a Brexit-shaped hole, moves to add staff

The government published a paper on this new AAP pathway last year but followed up today with a series of firmed-up plans.

This also includes a cash boost for companies to help them develop treatments more quickly. The government will stump up £86 million ($112 million), with £35 million of that going toward small and medium-sized firms and their digital products, and a further £39 million to encourage the use of medtech devices.

Meanwhile, a new scheme to help develop pharma products and diagnostics gets £6 million, with the same amount also going to doctors to help them use these new meds and tech in their practices.

But it’s not a free windfall, as biopharmas need in return to “deliver value for money for the taxpayer” when it comes to pricing, the government has said in its plans. Pharma companies operating in the U.K. already exist under a PPRS system, as well as HTA bodies such as NICE, which limits their ability to have any price they set accepted for payment by the country’s state-run health service.

Commenting on the news, Richard Torbett, M.D., executive director of commercial policy at the U.K. pharma trade group ABPI, welcomed the news, saying: “The government’s commitment to speeding up access to the most innovative medicines and treatments is very much welcome. This should benefit thousands of NHS patients as well as delivering significant long-term savings for the health service if appropriate investment in these transformative therapies is made available.

“Over the next decade, breakthrough personalized therapies have the potential to transform treatment for many diseases, from cancers to diabetes to dementia. It is incumbent on everyone to tear down the barriers which have prevented access to medical progress of this kind.

“Sir Andrew Witty’s extensive pharmaceutical industry leadership and experience will be vital in helping to deliver a system which prioritizes patient access to transformative treatments. We are confident that the promise of making ground-breaking, cost-effective healthcare available for everyone, as quickly as possible, can be delivered through partnership with our industry, government and the NHS.”

Philip Thomson, president, global affairs at GSK, told FierceBiotech in a statement: “This is exactly the sort of initiative we need to be taking to improve patient treatment and strengthen the U.K.’s position as a powerhouse for life sciences. The measures unveiled today will improve access to impactful new medicines and help attract new investment to the U.K.”

This also comes as Patrick Vallance, head of R&D at GlaxoSmithKline, was said today by the Financial Times to be leaving his post to work as a scientific adviser to the government.