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Roche teams with DH for drug repurposing trial

Published on 06/01/16 at 10:39am
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The National Institute for Health Research is an arm of the Department of Health

Roche and the UK Department of Health have launched a trial, to explore whether one of the company’s treatments for arthritis can be used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Roche and the UK Department of Health have launched a trial, to explore whether one of the company’s treatments for arthritis can be used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension.

The ‘ground-breaking’ drug repurposing trial comes after campaigners tried – and failed – to win the Government’s backing for the cross-party Off Patent Drugs Bill. The legislation sought to remove the barriers to cheaper drugs being repurposed and made available to treat patients in different clinical indications.

The Bill outlined plans to make it a legal duty for the Government to step in where there is no incentive for a pharma company to act, and seek to license and approve off-patent, repurposed drugs for use on the NHS. However it failed to make it through its second Parliamentary reading or win enough support to progress further.

The new trial suggests the Government has not ruled out the option of exploring drug repurposing on a case by case basis, however. The two-year study between Roche and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the research arm of the DH, will include around 50 patients at the Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation trust. It is part of the NIHR’s Rare Disease Collaboration, which was set up in 2013, and supported by a £20m investment to bring together the country’s leading experts in clinical research of rare diseases.

Patients will receive RoActemra (tocilizumab), to see if it can slow down the effects of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). The condition affects just one or two people in every million in Europe, and as there is currently no cure, and fewer than 40% of patients live beyond five years of diagnosis.

Dr Madhi Farhan, Roche’s head of the office of I2O Innovation says: “Working with NOCRI and the NIHR has been invaluable to ensure rapid connections and fruitful partnership with the UK's leading experts in translational research of PAH. Being able to look at the in-depth science of how one of our current treatments could be applied to a real unmet medical need is what attracted us to carry out this work in the UK. We hope this research will soon lead to benefit for patients with this debilitating disease.”

Dr Farhan told Pharmafile: "As Roche, we have always been committed to developing medicines in areas of unmet need. This is why we are investing more than £6.2 billion a year in research and development globally, and we have over 30 potential new medicines in our pipeline.

"It's important to continue collaborating with all stakeholders, to ensure that people continue to benefit from innovative, life-improving treatments, now and in the future. And we are committed to continuing clinical trials in the UK, with the NHS and others."

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP says the funding for the trial is part of moves to “accelerate the access for NHS patients to new treatments.”

While Mark Samuels, managing director, of the NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure adds: “This innovative and exciting trial of an available biological drug is further evidence for the success of the NIHR in collaborating with industry on the development of ground-breaking therapies. I am delighted to see the important role NOCRI played in building and supporting this collaboration with Roche.”

Lilian Anekwe

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