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NHS England wins legal dispute over largest medicines procurement

NHS England has seen off a legal challenge to its largest ever medicines procurement, which is aimed at acquiring drugs to help eliminate hepatitis C in the country by 2025.

Last November, HSJ revealed Illinois based pharmaceutical company Abbvie had challenged NHS England’s procurement process, accusing the regulator of not treating bidders equally. At the time, NHS England called the challenge “embarrassing” in its “lack of particulars”.

A judge at the Technology and Construction Court dismissed Abbvie’s challenge on Friday.

The procurement, described by NHS England as the NHS’ single largest medicines procurement, was launched last spring. Its estimated value is nearly £1bn over five years.

The procurement was launched in a bid to lower the cost of hepatitis C drugs, which are manufactured by Abbvie, Gilead Sciences and MSD Pharmaceutical.

Successful companies would be given three year contracts, with NHS England having an option to extend them by two further years.

The winning bidder has not yet been announced.

The procurement is a vital step towards delivering NHS England’s target of eliminating hepatitis C in England by 2025, which is five years earlier than the World Health Organisation’s target.

Abbvie’s challenge delayed the contract start dates by six months, but NHS England said it remains on track for the 2025 target.

John Stewart, director of specialised commissioning at NHS England, said: “Court cases such as this are a waste of NHS resources and taxpayers’ money, in this case resulting in an unavoidable delay in our efforts to tackle the threat of hepatitis C.

“With this court case behind us we can now get on with the job.”

Hepatitis C is a cancer-causing infectious disease, spread by contact with an infected person’s blood.

In recent years, Public Health England has estimated that around 160,000 people are infected with Hepatitis C in England, although around half are unaware of their infection.

The disease, which can go undetected until the liver becomes damaged, can now be cured in weeks using new oral tablets.

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