Sunderland research team to probe unlicensed medicines

Professor Scott Wilkes, Lindsay Parkin, Gemma Donovan and Dr Lyn Brierley-Jones from Sunderland University

Professor Scott Wilkes, Lindsay Parkin, Gemma Donovan and Dr Lyn Brierley-Jones from Sunderland University

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A RESEARCH team at Sunderland University is celebrating a national first after being given a grant to investigate unlicensed medicines.

The Clinical Pharmacy Research Grant, the first of its kind to be awarded in the UK, will fund a 12-month project to explore the use of unlicensed medicines within the NHS.

The medicines, though not considered dangerous, are often untested and can be expensive.

A university team will review current published literature along with guidance and protocols around unlicensed medicines.

They will also conduct one-to-one interviews with prescribers, pharmacists and patients.

Information will then be reported back to participants via two focus groups, one for patients and the other for healthcare professionals. It is hoped the results will help to inform the education of professionals and enable patients to be better notified.

Principal investigator with the research team, Gemma Donovan, said: “The team is very excited about starting the project.

“Use of unlicensed medicines is an issue which affects pharmacists across all sectors of the profession, as well as patients and the wider multi-disciplinary team.

“This study will be an important step towards understanding how professionals and patients use unlicensed medicines and will add to the debate on the place of unlicensed medicines within the NHS.”

Unlicensed medicines have not undergone the clinical trials, testing and evaluation that licensed medicines go through in the UK.

They are usually used to manage specific patients, for example creating a liquid for someone who cannot swallow pills.

Normally, pharmaceutical companies are liable for any adverse reactions caused by the products they produce, however in the case of unlicensed medicines it is the prescriber, such as the GP, though it is often the pharmacist who will ultimately source the product.

Currently there is little evidence surrounding unlicensed medicines but data does show that they are often more expensive.

Mark Borthwick, chairman of UK Clinical Pharmacy Association (UKCPA), said: “The UKCPA is proud to support young researchers and thereby do its bit to develop the research capacity in pharmacy.

“Gemma Donovan and co-workers have produced a great bid that was well thought out and well-articulated.”