Baroness Masham writes about why she raised Empower in the House of Lords
A couple of weeks ago I took part in an important debate in the House of Lords on improving neurological services in the United Kingdom. The debate was a display of the House of Lords at its best – informed and impassioned discussion on a subject close to many of my colleagues’ hearts.
I took the opportunity to highlight a neglected subject; one with some alarming statistics that I believe deserves wider attention. This is the crucial issue of how long it takes – and how costly it is – to bring new drugs to market in the UK. It can take more than 10 years and cost more than £1 billion to bring a new drug to market.
I also highlighted that no new drug has been developed for motor neurone disease (MND) in more than 20 years. Some 5,000 people in the United Kingdom have motor neurone disease, and about 1,500 of them die each year- that is about five a day.
MND robs people of the ability to walk, talk, eat normally and ultimately breathe. In such circumstances it is entirely understandable that a person would want to reach for any lifeline they can.
As a patient who took part in a Genetic Alliance study describes it "if I was in a plane and offered a parachute with a 90% chance of failing, I would refuse it unless that plane was spiralling out of control towards the ground, in which case I might well be glad of it".
A statement like that really brought home to me the urgency of the task at hand; and that is why I felt it was so important to draw attention to Les’s campaign. Given how long it takes to find the right combination of drugs to treat life-threatening conditions, it seems to me that the Empower: Access to Medicine campaign is exactly the right one.
Speeding up the development and availability of drugs would benefit everybody in society. The current testing and development process is long, cumbersome and expensive and I believe the Access to Medicine campaign is a powerful voice in driving this agenda.
That is why I asked the Government in the debate whether the life sciences strategy, launched in December 2011, will help speed up the drug approval process - I also urged the Minister to help expedite NICE to produce guidance and quality standards for MND. It is only through raising these vital questions, in a public forum, that we can drive this agenda forward. I will continue to raise this issue where possible and I wish the campaign every success.
Baroness Masham is a crossbench member of the House of Lords. She is the senior female life peer and has been Lord Lieutenant of the East Riding of Yorkshire since 2005.