Irish patients waiting longer for new drugs, say pharma firms

Simon Harris tells pharma firms they must reassess price models and profit expectations

Minister for Health Simon Harris: “I want all of our citizens to have access to the newest, most innovative medicines that are out there . . . But not at any cost.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Health Simon Harris: “I want all of our citizens to have access to the newest, most innovative medicines that are out there . . . But not at any cost.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Irish patients are waiting longer for new drugs than those in other countries across western Europe, according to major international pharma companies.

Only one-fifth of new cancer drugs launched internationally in 2014 and 2015 were available in Ireland in 2016, according to the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents the big research pharma companies.

IPHA president Mary Dickens said that Ireland “performs worst among our peer group of western European countries by this measure”.

Ms Dickens, who is general manager of general medicine at Sanofi Ireland, was addressing the IPHA annual conference dinner on Wednesday. The conference earlier on Wednesday focused exclusively on the need to speed up access to new medicines in Ireland.

Minister for Health Simon Harris, who also addressed the dinner, acknowledged the frustrations of the industry. In scripted remarks, the Minister said: “Of course I want all of our citizens to have access to the newest, most innovative medicines that are out there and as quickly as possible. But not at any cost.”

He said the dilemma could be viewed either as a funding problem or as a pricing problem, “depending on which side of the table you are at”.

Resource pool

“From my perspective there is no ambiguity. We have gone to the well, year after year, and asked the Irish taxpayer to provide more and more resources to fund our drugs budget. That resource pool is not infinite and neither should it be. We have got to spend it better.”

However, Mr Harris said he had asked his department to engage with key stakeholders – both the industry and patient groups – to see if there were ideas that could improve access to new medicines.

Earlier, speakers at the conference looked at how current regulatory systems could be adapted to improve access to medicines

Cornelis Boersma, head of market access for Europe at GlaxoSmithKline, said the current trend of growing health costs globally was unsustainable. The challenge for the industry and payers especially, with complex new medicines and combination therapies, was how to bridge the gap between prices and value.

The Minister said his counterparts across Europe were “strongly of the view that the drugs industry needs to fundamentally reassess both pricing models and profit expectations”.

Timely access

Ms Dickens pointed to the four-year supply agreement signed last year that agreed price reductions on existing medicines as well as clarifying the process for reimbursement of new drugs. While the price reductions promised by the industry have been realised, she said, “on the issue of the timely access to new medicines for patients in Ireland, we are not doing well. Ireland is not yet the best small country to be ill in, if you need a new medicine.

“Prices and spending on medicines in Ireland are at the average of 14 European reference countries. But, availability of new medicines is slowest,” she said. “It is simply not the best for patients that 1,000 days would pass between authorisation of a new medicine for Europe and making it available, with reimbursement, in our Irish health services.”