Cancer drug trials hit by lack of funding , report warns

Government urged to improve focus on pharma research and access to medicines

Trials of new drugs for lymphoma, testicular cancer and endometrial cancer have been unable to open in Ireland because of a cut in funding for cancer research, the Government is being warned.

The issue dates back to a €3 million cutback in the budget of Cancer Trials Ireland, a research group that oversees trials in Ireland, in 1996. As a result, the proportion of Irish cancer patients enrolled in trials has halved to just 1.5 per cent, according to a new submission to Government.

The position paper emerged from a round table featuring HSE chief executive Paul Reid, Oliver O'Connor, who is chief executive of the Irish Pharmaceutical Health Association – an industry group representing research-based pharma companies – Killian O'Driscoll, director of projects at the National Institute for Bioprocessing, Researching and Training, and MSD Ireland managing director Ger Brennan. The event was hosted by Guaranteed Ireland which will present the paper to Government.

It says there are "severe and urgent issues that require addressing in the field of clinical research". While it does work with industry, Cancer Trials Ireland also oversees research in areas that might not meet the commercial priorities of industry but are nevertheless important to patient populations.


Earlier this year, group chief executive Eibhlín Mulroe said: “Trials are also a very cost-effective way to provide cancer treatments as trial drugs are provided by pharmaceutical companies. For every €1 in Government grant we get, we can attract €3 in investment in trials. So, at a health policy and economic basis it’s a no-brainer,” she said.

Renewed focus

The position paper calls for a renewed focus on research and development in the Irish pharma sector, noting that the status of research in Irish government policy appears to have been downgraded.

It also warns that the "current system of assessing new medicines in Ireland is not working", with the country ranked bottom of 13 western European states in its speed of bringing new cancer medicines to patients.

Ireland needs a multiyear budgetary framework that would guarantee investment in new medicines while creating savings in existing medicines, it says, noting that a move to this approach has improved access in a number of countries. The paper notes that spending on medicines in Ireland as a proportion of the health budget is lower here than the OECD average.

It notes that the pharma and medtech industries employ more than 30,000 people in Ireland directly and that Ireland is currently the second largest exporter of medtech in Europe and ranks seventh worldwide for exports of pharma and medtech.

“However, we cannot be complacent regarding this pivotal industry,” the paper says.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times