On branded drugs.

May 5, 2013

I went shopping yesterday…

Anti-allergy meds

On the left, a box of 14 generic allergy relief tablets, each containing 10mg Cetirizine HCl and Lactose – costing £1.

On the right, a box of 14 branded allergy relief tablets, each containing 10mg Cetirizine HCl and Lactose – costing £5.67. In a sale. Down from £7.57.

The active ingredients are  identical. The evidence for the efficacy of the active ingredients is identical. So how can companies justify charging 7.5 times more? I understand and acknowledge that effective marketing and other psychological factors might lead to a more effective placebo component of any clinical effect [1][2] – but a 7.5 fold increase in effectiveness?

The chemical structure of cetirizine.

The chemical structure of cetirizine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we assume that the sellers make some sort of profit on the generic, then someone must be making a huge profit on the branded anti-allergy meds. Which seems a little immoral. If you can offer people relief for 7.1p per day, why charge as much as 54p per day?

Whether or not this pricing is down to the pharmaceutical industry I cannot be sure – but big pharma don’t have the greatest public image at the moment – and examples like this sat on the shelf of your local supermarket perhaps serve as another example of why.

Like science?

April 30, 2013

Like science and the progress and prosperity it brings the UK? Then sign the pants off this bad boy. http://ow.ly/kyyQ7 #sivpoint8

Jeremy Hunt FOIA update:

November 4, 2012

A follow up to this

I have had a reply from the DoH regarding my request to see the evidence that Jeremy Hunt claimed to have about a 12 week limit for abortion:



Dear Mr Briggs,

Thank you for your request of 8 October 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act (2000).  Your exact request was:

“Recently the Health secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP has been quoted as saying that

“I’m not someone who thinks that abortion should be made illegal. Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when that moment is and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it.”


Please provide all sources of evidence that Jeremy Hunt MP used in reaching this decision. In cases in which the piece of evidence itself cannot be provided, please provide a suitable citation or URL to where the evidence can be obtained.”

I can confirm that the Department does not hold any information relevant to your request.

The views expressed were related to his vote, in May 2008 about the abortion amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. This was prior to his appointment to the Department in September 2012.

Please note that abortion is a matter for Parliament and not for the Government.

The Government has no plans to change the law. It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and, as with all matters of conscience, that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.

If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to:

Head of the Freedom of Information Team

Department of Health

Room 317

Richmond House

79 Whitehall ,



Email: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx@xx.xxx.xxx.xx 

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner (ICO) for a decision. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by the Department. The ICO can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Young

Freedom of Information Officer
Department of Health


I guess this response is perhaps not too surprising, but a little disappointing. The statement that –

the Department does not hold any information relevant to your request

– suggests that the ‘evidence’ of which Hunt spoke was not handed to him by a civil servant, and is not an official DoH position. Furthermore, given that –

The Government has no plans to change the law. It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and, as with all matters of conscience, that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.

– it would appear that Hunt as a minister is not even in a position to propose a vote to change the limit on abortion.

However, the question of where Hunt’s evidence comes from remains.

He claimed to have seen evidence, which he has failed to reveal.  An omission? An error? A lie?

If we cannot rely on the Minister for Health, head of a department that should be a beacon of evidence-based-policy, to be straight with us regarding evidence, what hope have we that he will treat what remains of the NHS with the necessary regard?

If anyone has any ideas about how this might be taken further, comments are welcome.

Jeremy Hunt – Show me the evidence!

October 6, 2012

Him again. Sorry.


Jeremy Hunt, Weymouth, 11 June 2010

The emperor reveals his evidence?

Jeremy Hunt MP, the current health secretary, has recently said that he would back a call for the legal limit for abortion to be cut from 24 weeks to 12 weeks – he also states that his decision to do this is evidence-based.

I don’t claim to have a particularly comprehensive knowledge of the medical/scientific evidence surrounding the time during pregnancy beyond which abortion is not safe/feasible/practical, but I have never seen any evidence that claims to back a 12 week limit. Certainly, it is clear in the 2006-7 parliament report into scientific developments relating to abortion[PDF] that no evidence appears to have been presented that supports a 12 week limit. Perhaps there is some new evidence I have not seen?

I would be very interested indeed to see the evidence upon which Jeremy Hunt has based his decision. So interested, in fact, that I have submitted a freedom of information request to the department of health so that I might see this evidence. Without this evidence I cannot possibly make an informed decision on this matter, so it is imperative that the evidence be made available for everyone to read for themselves.

I would also echo calls made on twitter that “There should be a legal requirement, any time an MP says their view is backed by evidence, they must publish said evidence.”

The department of health have until the 2nd of November 2012 to reply to my FOI request. Any and all responses I get will be blogged.

EDIT – 19/10/2012
Today Jeremy Hunt appeared on the Radio 4 Today program. He was asked by Justin Webb about where he got the evidence for his stance on reducing the legal limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 12 weeks, and on his views on the efficacy (or otherwise) of homeopathy. Hunt does a superb answer of answering almost any other question he can think of. He was pointedly asked what his evidence was, and where he got it from. He did not answer the question. You can listen to a clip of the interview here. As of today, I have had an acknowledgement from the DoH about my FOI request, but nothing further. They have until the 02/11/2012 to reply.

Did Jeremy Hunt mislead the house of commons?

June 2, 2012

In which I have a look at the recent appearance of the Culture Secretary, Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP at the Leveson Inquiry into Press and Media ethics. Did he mislead the house of commons?

A bit of background information.

The Leveson Inquiry was called by the current Prime Minister David Cameron to examine the culture, ethics and practices of the UK Press in the light of revelations about phone hacking by certain reporters, as broken by Guardian Journalist Nick Davies. Press Barons, Politicians, Journalists and former Prime Minsters have been called to give evidence in an inquiry that has provided plenty of shocks, especially about the relationship between successive UK governments and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

This relationship between the UK Govt and News Corp became particularly important when News Corp wanted take over the UK satellite TV operator, BSkyB. The UK (and European) governments had to rule on whether or not this broke both competition rules and whether or not this would break the media ownership rules of the UK media regulator, OfCom.

Originally, the Business Minster, Dr Vince Cable MP was in charge of this decision – however, when he was taped saying he was “waging war” on Rupert Murdoch, he (quite rightly) had this role stripped off him for bias. This role was then passed to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP.

The bias issue is important here – the role of arbitor in a case such as this requires the MP to act in a quasi-judicial manner – i.e. – no party political or political considerations should come into account – the MP should be entirely impartial. Whether or not MPs are capable of acting impartially is a separate matter.

Jeremy Hunt the Culture Secretary

This dangerous spoonerism of a minister was called to give evidence in the Leveson Inquiry earlier this week. Previously we had heard from James (son of Rupert) Murdoch about close ties that News Corp officials had had with Hunt during the deliberations with BSkyB. Hunt’s Special adviser Adam Smith ‘resigned’ when is was revealed that he had an inappropriately close relationship with News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel. The day after James Murdoch gave evidence at the Leveson enquiry (some of which looked very bad for Jeremy Hunt) – Hunt gave a statement and answered questions in the house of commons to defend his actions and deny some allegations that had been levelled at him (held on April 25th, 2012)

One exchange during this debate went as follows:

Richard Graham (Conservative MP for Gloucester)”

We have heard today that there are, indeed, many cases in political history of lobbyists with more of Walter Mitty than the truth to their claims. Perhaps the Secretary of State can help the House today. Fred Michel claimed he had 54 separate conversations with the Secretary of State; will my right hon. Friend confirm how many conversations he did have?

Jeremy Hunt:

The answer is Zero.

Here we have Jeremy Hunt flatly denying having any conversations with Fred(eric) Michel, the News Corp lobbyist. Reading the full debate – it appears that Hunt’s basic defense is that Fred Michel has embellished (i.e. lied about) his relationship with Hunt in order to curry favour with his News Corp bosses. Hunt said that all Michel’s contact with him was via his advisor Adam Smith.

During his evidence at Leveson, given on the morning[PDF] and the afternoon[PDF] of the 31st of May, Jeremy Hunt went on to talk about conversations he had with, erm, Fred Michel. Hunt’s contributions are in bold:

4 Q. There was another meeting at the Conservative Party
5 conference in that year in October 2010. We see that
6 from annex B again at 05626. This time it was
7 Rebekah Brooks and Frederic Michel. Can you recall
8 whether the BSkyB bid was discussed on that occasion?
9 A. Yes, it was.


22 Q. The only evidence we have as to what was discussed is in
23 the file of text messages, which is supplementary bundle
24 volume 2, tab TT, 01847. A text timed at 15.49 on
25 16 November. Mr Michel to you. Do you see that one?
Page 26
1 A. Yes.
2 Q. “Thanks for the call with James today, greatly
3 appreciated. Will work with Adam to make sure we can
4 send you helpful arguments. Warm regards, Fred.”
5 And your reply almost immediately is:
6 “Pleasure.”
7 We can see that?
8 A. Yes.
9 Q. So it’s reasonable to suppose that the call was
10 successful to the extent that some reassurance was given
11 by you to Mr Murdoch insofar as you could give it. Is
12 that fair?


18 Q. Okay. Can we go back, please, to the file of text
19 messages, which is the tab at the end of this second
20 supplementary bundle. We’re going to look first of all
21 at the post 22 December 2010 messages between you and
22 Mr Michel and we can pick these up on page 08148,
23 Mr Hunt. Are you with me?
24 A. Yes.
25 Q. Which really start at the very end of the last page. On
Page 18
1 20 January, the date of your second meeting with
2 News Corp, do you see —
3 A. Sorry, which date was that?
4 Q. 20 January 2011, bottom of page 01847.
5 A. Sorry, I’d turned over the page.
6 Q. You have to turn over the page to see the time. It’s at
7 20.53. Mr Michel says:
8 “Great to see you today.”
9 Then there’s a reference to your babies, so
10 obviously we pass over that, it’s been redacted.
11 “Warm regards.”
12 And then you at a quarter to midnight text him:
13 “Good to see u too. Hope u understand why we have
14 to have the long process. Let’s meet up when things are
15 resolved.”
16 Is that not giving a somewhat positive message,
17 Mr Hunt?
18 A. Not at all. I’m just saying to him we have a long
19 process, hope you understand why that’s necessary.
20 Q. Then he replies the following morning — for him he’s
21 slightly late coming back to you, but never mind:
22 “We do and will do our very best to be constructive
23 and helpful throughout. You were very impressive
24 yesterday. And yes let’s meet up when it’s all done.
25 Warmest regards, Fred.”

And so on. In the transcripts of the morning and afternoon sessions there are 119 mentions of ‘Michel’ – some of them are regarding discussions between Adam Smith and Fred Michel – but some of them are about discussions & conversations between Hunt and Michel, and some of them AFTER Hunt took over the BSkyB bid role from Vince cable (late december, 2010).

Now, I am not a politician, or a lawyer, but clearly Hunt interacted with Michel in all manner of ways.

Either he lied in the house of commons (a breach of the ministerial code) or he lied under oath, i.e. committed perjury.

If he breached the ministerial code, section 1.2.c states that:

It is of paramount importance that Ministers give
accurate and truthful information to Parliament,
correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest
opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead
Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to
the Prime Minister;

If he lied under oath in the Leveson Inquiry, he is guilty of Perjury, the punishment for which can be as much as 7 years in prison.

Maybe this is a overly simplistic, empirical, scientist’s way of looking at things. Maybe there are nuances I have missed. But I can’t see how Hunt’s answer to the question in the HoC on the 25th April 2012 can be interpreted as anything other than a falsehood.

£4.2bn cuts to the Universities?

October 15, 2010
Great Hall before BUAFTAs night

Image by Nickster 2000 via Flickr

So it came to pass that the £4.2bn cut didn’t happen – whether it was on the cards, or was an erroneous leak, who can say. But this post isn’t going to be deleted – just left in place as a monument to a jerking-knee and as a constant reminder about Cameron’s pledge to science…

A quick and hopefully not too ranty post in which I point out that David Cameron is a liar.

The great hall of Birmingham University is quite an imposing place. It is where I sat my final biochemistry exam and where my graduation was held in 2000.


It was also chosen as the venue for the 3rd and final election debate for the 2010 UK general election. On the 29th of April this year, the leaders of the three political parties answered a variety of questions on the public finances, education and business.

During this exchange, David Cameron responded to a question regarding the rebuilding of the manufacturing industry in the UK as follows:

“Let’s start with investing in our science base and making sure great universities like this are producing the scientists and entrepreneurs of the future.”

And despite these fine and (dare I say), wholly sensible words, today it has been revealed that the UK university and science sectors will have their budgets slashed by an amazing £4.2bn.

This is most certainly not investing in our science base.

This is destroying it.

As the Science is Vital campaign has been so good at pointing out, a supply of well trained graduates and the maintenance of world class centres of research and innovation are essential for the continued existence of STEM-based industries within the UK economy, which account for roughly 40% of our GDP.

This is a huge backwards step which will do nothing for the UK economy – the short term gain by saving £4.2bn will translate into long term pain, as STEM-based industries desert the United Kingdom for countries like the US, Canada, Germany, etc which have the presence and forethought to maintain investment in their universities and research institutes.

I am afraid that I don’t have the literary legerdemain to describe how annoyed, frustrated and depressed I am about this without descending into a tirade of profanity.

Science is Vital – a letter from my MP.

September 14, 2010

A letter from my MP, concerning potentially worrying cuts to the science budget

He actually uses the phrase “Science is Vital” – which can’t be bad.

On the whole – I think this looks quite promising – however, a few alarm bells ring at:

“the government will continue to fund the most excellent science and research”

– this depends upon what the government’s definition of “excellent” is – is it Vince Cable’s 54% for example? In which case – much of UK research is for the high jump. He does make the point that science is an “important driver of economic growth” – which is good – and that a supply of technically skilled staff from UK universities is required to support STEM based industries. However – if the big cuts are made to the UK science and higher education budgets, that supply of technically skilled graduates will dry up.

On the whole, quite encouraging – but I’ll still be watching closely on October 20th with one eye on the overseas jobs market.