Pf spoke to NICE’s Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, who explained how this year’s Prix Galien Awards provide an opportunity for the pharmaceutical sector to be proud of its achievements as innovators.
THE NORTHWICK PARK tragedy has further damaged the pharma industry’s already flawed public reputation. Admitting to a career in the sector is often done more in apology these days than in pride. Pharma no longer appears to be a blue-chip profession. And yet a career in pharmaceuticals is one aligned with innovation, value and public benefit.
When the next winners of the prestigious Prix Galien Awards are unveiled at a lavish ceremony at the Houses of Parliament this September, the victors will have earned the respect and acclaim of the toughest of judging panels. The panel, which comprises leading health technology appraisal experts from across the NHS, is chaired by the most eminent judge of them all: Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman of NICE. To win the prize, the participants really have to earn it. The fierce nature of the competition underlines the true value of the pharmaceutical industry and how a career within the sector makes an important contribution to public health.
Professor Sir Michael Rawlins has chaired the Prix Galien judging panel for nine years. His passion for new therapies and what they can do for the nation’s health was stimulated much earlier in his career, when he was a clinical pharmacologist. The Prix Galien, he feels, plays an important role in the pharmaceutical industry in that it recognises and rewards innovation that would otherwise often go unnoticed:
“The Prix Galien recognises the technical, scientific and clinical research skills necessary to discover and develop innovative new medicines. I am proud to chair the panel because it provides me with an opportunity to acclaim, publicly, the contributions made by basic and clinical scientists within the pharmaceutical industry.”
What is the Prix Galien?
The Prix Galien is an internationally recognised award within the pharmaceutical industry. Launched in France in 1969, it was named after the Roman philosopher Claudius Gelenus (AD 131–201) – widely regarded as the ‘father of modern pharmacology’ – and rewards outstanding achievement in research and development.
The UK Prix Galien was established 15 years ago to recognise the UK industry’s achievements in the evolution of medicines. Its main purpose is to recognise and reward innovation. Winners of the UK Prix Galien are entered into the International Prix Galien, which runs every two years and pits medical innovators from across the globe against each other.
Contributing to patient welfare
Innovation, says Professor Sir Michael, is at the heart of the pharmaceutical industry. “When innovation is achieved, it meets unmet clinical need.” As such, the Prix Galien judges look not only for the highest quality of discovery and development, but also for therapies that make the greatest contribution to patient welfare.
Previous Prix Galien winners include high-profile drugs such as Herceptin (2002) and Viagra (2000) – the former significantly improving survival times in patients with aggressive breast cancer, the latter bringing the whole issue of men’s health, particularly impotence, into the public eye. Likewise, Meningitec (2000) brought about a 75% drop in cases of meningitis C in young babies and children, while Glivec (2002) provided the only treatment option for gastrointestinal stromal tumours. (See ‘Prix Galien past winners’ below.)
The Awards are held every two years, with the UK winners being put forward for the International Prix Galien. Last time out, in 2004, the Prix Galien medal was jointly awarded: Roche’s Fuzeon and Wyeth’s Prevenar shared the top prize ahead of a strong list of contenders from across the UK industry. Advate (Baxter Healthcare), Crestor (AstraZeneca), Lantus (Aventis), Neulasta (Amgen), Tracleer (Actelion Pharmaceuticals), Velcade (Ortho Biotec), Vfend (Pfizer) and Xigris (Lilly UK) completed the shortlist. “The judges were impressed by the quality of all the shortlisted applications; but overall, Fuzeon and Prevenar were considered to be of special worth for the award of the Prix Galien,” says Professor Sir Michael.
For the participating companies, the result is significant. “The Prix Galien Award represents the output of a rigorous review by a prestigious panel that ultimately recognises and rewards true innovation within the industry,” says Simon Harris, Business Unit Director for Specialist Products at Roche. “Upon winning the Prix Galien we had a broad internal communication programme to highlight the success of Fuzeon in gaining this award. Our employees certainly recognised that they were working for a truly innovative pharmaceutical company that ultimately made a significant impact on patients’ lives.”
“The industry seems to be struggling along the bottom of the curve as regards its reputation at the moment. The Prix Galien can be used to demonstrate to a wider public audience the achievements of the pharmaceutical industry.”
– David Gibbons, Corporate Affairs Project Manager, Wyeth
The public impact of medical innovation is unparalleled. It’s also largely unsung. A glance at the profiles of the 2004 Award winners provides unequivocal evidence of the value of pharmaceuticals.
Prevenar is a conjugate vaccine offering protection against seven serotypes of pneumococcal infection. These account for 80% of invasive pneumococcal disease in infants and young children. Trials involving over 37,000 children suggested that 1,000 cases of pneumococcal meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia, around 27 of them fatal, would be prevented each year in the UK. “The panel was impressed by the potential impact that this product will have in preventing serious infection in young children and infants,” says Professor Sir Michael.
Fuzeon is the first of a new class of anti-retroviral drugs known as fusion inhibitors. It represents a new way of tackling the HIV virus: preventing it from entering the cell, rather than acting inside the cell (as other HIV therapies do). It thus offers new hope to those patients who have become resistant to other therapies.
Fuzeon’s victory in 2004 was due not only to the obvious health benefits of the therapy, but also to the sophistication of its manufacturing process. “We were impressed not only with the results of the clinical trials of the product,” says Professor Sir Michael, “but also the extraordinarily complex manufacturing issues that had to be solved.”
“Fuzeon has given me the chance to look towards the future and have some dreams.” – an HIV patient
To win the Innovative Product Award, a drug must be judged to represent a genuine breakthrough in its therapeutic area and to demonstrate innovation and therapeutic advantages over other treatments already in existence. Furthermore, it must have demonstrated a significant therapeutic effect on patient health.
In the case of Fuzeon, the first patient to be given the HIV treatment attended the 2004 ceremony and praised the drug for giving him the chance to “look towards the future and have some dreams”.
Patients are a virtue
The patient is playing an increasingly significant role in the delivery of healthcare – a fact that Professor Sir Michael is happy to acknowledge. “Patients have several roles,” he says. “Most importantly, of course, they play an essential part in the clinical research as participants and subjects. But they also have other roles: they can (or at least should) contribute to specifying the desirable characteristics of a drug delivery programme; they should be intimately involved in the development of quality of life measures; and they should – to a much greater extent than in the past – be involved in making decisions about the trade-off between benefit and risk.”
The growing role of the patient in the development of medicines in the UK is influenced heavily by the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the general public. Current public attitudes towards the industry are disappointing. Despite the fact that the industry ploughs around 20% of its turnover back into R&D, its reputation remains at a low ebb. The Prix Galien can help to rectify this by enabling the industry to focus on its strengths and highlight its almost forgotten status as one of the UK’s most innovative sectors.
Professor Sir Michael Rawlins believes that the Prix Galien can improve the wider public perception of the pharmaceutical industry. “I hope it brings to the public’s attention the contributions of individuals, and teams, working in the pharmaceutical industry. What they do is often forgotten and should be made more public.”
Clearly, a career in pharmaceuticals is a worthwhile one. It is, in fact, one of the few industries that can make a genuine difference to society. Be proud of it.