Call for fresh approach to funding new medicines

Pharmaceutical sector urges faster access to markets and sharper focus on innovation

The pharmaceutical industry is urging the Government to introduce “predictable multiannual budgeting” for breakthrough medicines in the budget process.

Such budgeting needs to allow for "sustained, reasonable annual increases in funding for innovative medicines" and "horizon scanning" for new medicines that are close to commercialisation, says the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (Ipha).

The group, which represents big, research-based drug companies, says the Department of Health needs to more accurately project demand for existing treatments in a situation where the population is growing and ageing.

"Market access remains a challenge," said Aidan Lynch, newly elected president of Ipha and general manager at GSK Ireland. "Irish patients deserve access to new innovative medicines at speeds at least comparable to our western European peers."

The aim, says Ipha in its Manifesto for Better Health, should be to make sure the Republic is in the top quarter of EU states for giving patients access to new medicines.

We remain among the slowest countries in western Europe to make innovative medicines available to patients, says Ipha. Some of these medicines are made in the Republic but are available in Europe before Irish patients can access them, says the group. Ipha has consistently declined to identify any of the medicines concerned.

It says employment by major, foreign-owned drug companies has jumped nearly sixfold to about 30,000 in the past 30 years, with €10 billion invested in operations around the State in the past decade.

‘Global leader’

Ipha has been arguing for some time that government is not doing enough to support the sector, despite an agreement on drug prices in that will deliver €785 million in savings on medicine prices in the four years to July 2020.

It says that inaction could affect investment decisions of major pharmaceutical companies – almost all of which already have a significant presence in the State.

It urges the Government to position Ireland as a “global leader in the discovery and manufacture of life-changing treatments”. As a first step, a chief innovation officer should be appointed at the department to plan how Ireland pursues new cures like gene therapy and cell therapy and leverages data for personalised medicine.

“The international research-based pharmaceutical industry has a major stake in Ireland’s future,” said Mr Lynch. “The medicines we make, jobs we provide, and the lives we enhance are helping to transform Ireland’s society and economy for the better.

“We are calling for a new era of partnership between industry and government that speeds access to innovative medicines for patients and recognises the pivotal role of innovation in building a better healthcare system for Ireland.”

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