Ireland slow to approve cancer medicines for patient use

Just half of 41 cancer drugs approved from 2017-2020 were available here at end of 2021

Ireland is among the slowest countries in Europe to approve medicines for cancer and rare diseases for patient use, according to industry figures.

Compiled by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (Efpia), the report examines the time between European approval of a medicine and its use in 39 individual countries – the 27 EU states and 12 others, including Russia and the UK. It covers the 160 drugs approved by European regulators between 2017 and 2020.

Ireland ranks 27th out of 35 for the speed at which it agrees to fund cancer drugs, and 29th among 33 countries for which data is available in agreeing to pay for “orphan” drugs – those tackling very rare diseases.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (Ipha), which represents the industry in Ireland and is a member of Efpia, said a new supply and pricing agreement signed by the State last December should mean new medicines becoming available to patients faster through an improved funding framework.

Just half of the 41 cancer drugs approved in Europe between 2017 and 2020 were available in Ireland at the end of last year. Those the health service did agree to fund took on average 661 days to win approval against an EU average of 545 days.

Germany, on the other hand, has approved all 41 and took an average of just 100 days to do so in each case. German is, by a distance, the best performer among the countries surveyed.

England ranked sixth on cancer drugs, where it approved 14 more therapies than Ireland has, with a time lag of 268 days, less than half the Irish delay. It was ninth across all drug categories.

Among western European states only Portugal takes longer than Ireland to approve medicines, according to the data.

Ireland ranks better – 24th out of the 35 states for which data are available – across all medicines with its 541-day approval period just one month over the EU average. However, it has only made 67 of the 160 medicines approved by European authorities in those four years available to Irish patients.

Improving

Oliver O'Connor, chief executive of Ipha, said the survey highlighted Ireland's "persistent underperformance on speed of access to innovative new medicines".

However, he acknowledged that the situation has improved with recent budget funding decisions, where €80 million has been set aside over 2021 and this year for use on newly-approved medicines.

“The two recent budgets will help but there is still more that can be done to bring the standards of care and treatment to European norms. Patients and their families rightly expect that,” Mr O’Connor said.

“In relation to cancer, we are making great strides but to reach the best survival rates in Europe we need to be among the best for speed and availability of new cancer medicines.”

The study allowed a one-year window for countries to reimburse the medicines, meaning it covers a period up to the end of last year