Drug firms face fight for database licences

Pharmaceutical companies will be fighting it out in a multimillion pound battle for access to a Government-held database on patients’ reactions to drugs.

The database was originally compiled by Vamp Health, which won 25 per cent of the market to supply computer systems to general practitioners. Some 700 medical practices agreed to supply the company with information on patients’ illnesses and treatments.

The information is likely to be highly prized by pharmaceutical companies since the database has considerable potential for indicating which drugs are cost-effective. However, any evidence of side-effects could lead to calls for drugs to be withdrawn.

The database holds four years of data on 4.4 million patients, equivalent to almost 14 million patient years. Vamp Health had projected that annual income from the database could rise to ú60m after five years.

Vamp Health was bought for ú13m by Reuters in December 1993 but the information passed into the hands of the Department of Health. The DoH claimed it was the rightful owner of the information since GPs were contractors to it and had no authority to sell their patient details. Though the argument was not officially settled, the DoH appears to have effectively won.

It has issued two licenses to the information so far, one to the co-founder of Vamp Health and one to a US academic specialising in research on drug efficacy.

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