November 6, 2002
Britain's Court of Appeal on Wednesday threw out a bid by Pfizer Inc to make its anti-impotence drug Viagra widely available through the country's state health service.
The pharmaceutical giant had asked the courts to declare unlawful a British government decision to restrict the extent to which doctors can prescribe the little blue pill. But the court ruled that it was a political rather than a legal matter.
The government introduced the restrictions after Viagra was launched in Britain in 1999 because it feared soaring treatment costs. Free prescriptions were limited to men suffering from prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions.
Responding to the ruling, Pfizer said it was wrong to restrict Viagra prescriptions when drugs for other non-life-threatening conditions, such as skin treatments, antihistamines, and laxatives, were widely available on the National Health Service and were more expensive.
The government's barrister, Michael Beloff, said the government's decision was a political rather than a legal one and so could not be challenged by the courts.
Lord Justice Simon Brown, one of the three senior judges who heard the case, said there was no "clear set of ethical and rational values" governing such decisions by health ministers.
"Meantime, it seems to me inescapable that affordability...must be regarded as a political decision to be taken by government," he said.
Pfizer said it was considering whether to appeal to the House of Lords,
the country's highest court.
© Copyright 2002, Reuters Ltd