At a gathering of European health policymakers, one delegation with a high profile at this week’s Gastein forum rather stands out: Taiwan. Ministers and officials are in attendance, and have even sponsored one of the main sessions, on the sustainability of health systems.Just over the border in Switzerland, the World Health Organisation in the past has had to rebuff Taiwan’s requests to attend its annual world health assembly because of pressure from China. Under a truce brokered by Margaret Chan, the agency’s Hong Kong head, it is now able to attend.

Diplomatic rapprochement is obviously spreading but there is no sign of the Chinese at Gastein.

Taiwan may have some lessons for Europe. It has used the crisis as an excuse to redouble investment in electronic medical records. And it is helping guarantee medical care for the poor with a tobacco tax and money from the national lottery fund – simultaneously dampening and using the proceeds of two vices.

How the pleasure of youth quickly turns to the pain of old age. It looks as though Amgen has now completed its transition away from a fast-growing and spritely West Coast biotech business to a global pharma giant.Before, it stressed its focus to breakthrough new drugs. But at the European Health Forum in Gastein this week, it has sponsored a session on “discovering new indications for approved medicines” – the sort of “lifecycle management” that is distinctly “old pharma” not “new biotech”.

Read the FT Healthcare & the Recovery special report published Septenber 30, 2009

Shareholders may have been more concerned about shifts in strategy, governments about new approaches to pricing, and patients to any shift in the development of its experimental medicines, but GlaxoSmithKline’s own employees had something else on their mind when Andrew Witty took over as chief executive last year, according to a recent feel-good internal corporate blog: Orange Day at Camp Smile-A Mile 

Mr Witty, who is British, did away with “JP Days”, named after his French predecessor Jean-Pierre Garnier, who had allowed staff an extra day off work at the end of each year for a job well done. But instead of total abolition, he de-personalised them, creating an annual “Orange Day”. The new deal? In a sign of a more mid-Atlantic attitude to working hours and corporate loyalty, he allowed staff an extra day off – in order to volunteer in their communities.

A valiant effort this week from the British goverment’s advisory body, the Human Genetics Commission, which has issued a draft statement of principles designed to clamp down on “direct to consumer” genetic testing kits that are sold at significant cost via the internet, without any referral from or interpretation by a doctor: Move to regulate genetic tests sold to public

 It calls for pre- and post-counselling for tests designed to identify hereditary diseases, extreme caution before using tests of any sort on children or adults unable to provide informed consent, clear explanations of the limitations of any such tests, and tough measures to ensure DNA is not released to third parties.

Vaccine manufacturers have been at pains to point out recently that swine flu is a one-off public health issue more than a bonanza that is likely to make them significant money over the long term: Drug groups to reap swine-flu billions

Some have even donated stocks for free or at substantial discounts to the World Health Organisation and developing countries: Sanofi to donate 100m swine flu vaccines , although others have resisted, arguing that they need to recoup their costs in order to provide supplies sustainably: Novartis rejects call for vaccine donations  

But the high-minded debate has not prevented a fierce public relations battle, with Baxter, CSL and other vaccine makers each eager to grab public attention by claiming to be the first to produce the latest pandemic (or even seasonal) doses. In the process, they hope to hype their scientific prowess.

Yet such spin is largely irrelevant. Many of the richest countries have already long made their decisions on which vaccines they will buy. Others are still waiting for answers that the recent pandemic of press releases cannot answer: how much can be produced over what timescale, what the pricing will be, and which vaccines with which chemical adjuvants to boost effectiveness will the data show offer best value for money.

It’s a fair bet there may be a little less triumphalism from some of the loudest corporate shouters when the final evidence – and contracts – come out.

With the UK government warning employers to prepare for up to an eighth of their employees to be absent from work because of swine flu in the coming weeks, some businesses could be stretched to the limit.

There again, things could get worse still if current discussions lead to recommendations to keep schools closed after the summer holidays until a swine flu vaccine is prepared and given to children. That would mean more staff staying at home to look after them - just when business is picking up after the break.

So how is your business coping with the swine flu outbreak? Is it a serious threat to the recovery of the UK economy? What is the impact of the on the workplace, and your ability to operate? Share your views by clicking here or on the link below.

An awkward dilemma today for Labour parliamentary candidate Chris Ostrowski, as the ruling party tries to hold its seat in the Norwich North byelection this week. it has been confirmed that Mr Ostrowski has contracted swine flu, and as a representative of the UK government, he will surely feel obliged to follow official advice to stay at home to recover and avoid further spread of the virus.

While wishing him a swift recovery, party leaders might also be grateful for the cover his illness provides, given the odds suggest a Conservative victory.

Anyone who suspects they have swine flu will from next week receive Tamiflu on request without the need for a prescription, as the government moves to ease pressure on doctors.

Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer, said that the National Pandemic Flu Service would open by the end of next week, offering a way for people who describe their symptoms by phone or online to get a friend to collect Tamiflu for them.

Continue reading “Tamiflu goes on request for swine flu cases”

Patients with late-stage cancers should gain more rapid access to innovative treatments through the National Health Service under plans unveiled by the government on Tuesday.In a blueprint concluding months of consultations with industry, the Office for Life Sciences earmarked an initial £25m ($41m) next year for a pilot programme to fund experimental drugs for patients with rare illnesses ahead of the usual approval from the government’s medicines advisory body before their use in the NHS.

The policy is one of several unveiled in the document, “Building Britain’s Future”, designed to provide a boost to the UK’s declining global role in drug development and recognise the importance of the sector to the economy.

Continue reading “Move to speed cancer treatment in the UK”

Pharmaceutical companies should grant rival manufacturers the right to produce their HIV medicines, a group of MPs will recommend today in the UK.They should also publish independent audits of their efforts to increase access to treatment as demand surges in the developing world, the MPs will say.

New efforts by companies as well as government donors will be needed to provide better access to more expensive HIV antiretroviral medicines required by more patients in the future, says the report by the all-party parliamentary group on Aids.

“We are sitting on a treatment time bomb. We must reduce the price of second-line medicines and less toxic first-line medicines before millions need them. We cannot sleepwalk into a situation where we can only afford to treat a tiny proportion of those infected,” David Borrow, who chaired the group, said.

The report estimates that the number of people needing HIV drugs globally by 2030 will be 55m, compared with 4m today. The figure could be higher if treatment guidelines change.

It endorses a “patent pool” currently under discussion between several drug companies and Unitaid, the French-led international treatment funding agency, whereby manufacturers would agree to allow low-cost generic producers to make their patented products in exchange for a modest royalty.

GlaxoSmithKline, the UK pharmaceutical group, has supported a pool to provide access to its experimental compounds to outside researchers studying treatments for “neglected” tropical diseases. But the company has so far ruled out doing this for its existing HIV medicines.

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