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Industry Insight

The NHS at 70 – Contributions from the Pharma Industry

By Onyx Health | 27th July 2018

Read Time: 2 minutes


Earlier this month, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the NHS.  However, having read and watched many of the articles, blogs and TV programmes recognising the work of the NHS throughout June and July, I felt the myriad contributions of the pharmaceutical industry were largely missed.    

The work carried out by the pharmaceutical industry in the last 70 years, has undoubtedly extended and improved the lives of numerous individuals with acute and chronic conditions by giving the NHS the drugs and equipment with which to save lives.  

For example, NHS medicines have helped cancer survival rates double in the last 40 years (Cancer Research UK, Cancer survival, 2017) and has seen heart disease deaths decrease by 75% since the 1960s (British Heart Foundation, BHF CVD Statistics Factsheet – UK, 2017).  

As well as developing medicines, the industry makes a significant contribution to the economy.  In the UK, the life science sector is world-leading, contributing £30.4bn to the UK’s GDP and employs up to 140,000 people directly (PwC UK, The Economic contribution of the UK Life Sciences industry, 2017). 

Below are just a few examples of pharma’s contribution to healthcare, helping us to live better and longer lives:  

  • Antibiotics: While Alexander Fleming made the initial discovery of penicillin in 1928, the medical application of antibiotics really took off in the 1960s
  • Vaccination: Development of vaccines against a range of infectious diseases including smallpox, polio and hepatitis B has resulted in a major shift towards disease prevention
  • TB Therapy: Combined therapy has been recognised as the single-most important treatment of tuberculosis and has been adopted worldwide
  • Randomised Controlled Trials: The system used for testing and measuring the effectiveness of new drug treatments has been refined since the 1960s/70s and ensures that new drug treatments are safe and clinically effective
  • Anti-Viral Therapy for HIV: First available in 1996, this has transformed the outlook of HIV from a death sentence to an expectation of a near-normal lifespan for most patients
  • Statins: The cholesterol-lowering drug is used extensively in the prevention of heart disease, thought to prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes a year in UK
  • ACE Inhibitors: Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart problems and kidney disease.  Their use has greatly improved the quality of life for people with heart failure and prevented the development of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure
  • Beta-Blockers: Since the 1960s, beta-blockers have helped to reduce the effects of adrenaline on the heart and used to treat high blood pressure, angina and other forms of heart disease

For the past 70 years, the pharmaceutical industry has worked closely with doctors, pharmacists and nurses in the NHS to bring new medicines to patients.  Today, there are currently 7,000 potential new medicines in the pipeline that may someday benefit the NHS (Adis,R&D Insight, 2016), an exciting prospect for the future of healthcare.   


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