HSE spent €1.2bn on biologic medicines

More than €1.2bn has been spent by the HSE in reimbursing biologic medicines over the last three years with just over €2.2m spent on more affordable biosimilar medicines, it has emerged.

The health authority is spending almost €450m annually on biologics and just over €1m on more affordable biosimilar medicines.

Biological medicines have revolutionised patient treatment by offering new and effective medicines for acute and chronic conditions.

A biosimilar is a biological medicine highly similar to an original branded drug and in many other EU states, biosimilar usage is as high as 90%.

However, the more expensive biologics have a 99% medicine share under HSE schemes.

The data was provided by the HSE in response to a Dáil question by Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on primary care and community health services, John Brassil.

In the past three years, the HSE spent the following amounts on biologic and biosimilar medicines:

  • 2016 - €423m on biologics and €445,000 on biosimilars;
  • 2017 - €435m on biologics and €635,000 on biosimilars;
  • 2018 - €425m on biologics and €1.2m on biosimilars.

Medicines for Ireland is the representative body for the country’s largest medicine suppliers of generics, biosimilars and value-add medicines.

Members of the organisation are the largest suppliers of medicines to the HSE, providing more than 60% of the reimbursed drugs.

Chairperson of Medicine for Ireland Owen McKeon said the figures spoke for themselves.

“The fact that €1.2bn has been spent on biologics versus €2.2m on biosimilars demonstrates the Irish healthcare systems near total failure to embrace more affordable biosimilar medicines,” he said.

Biosimilar usage across the EU was now standard practise so it was difficult to understand why Ireland was not following the same pattern, said Mr McKeon.

It was concerning because, ultimately, the failure restricted patient’s access to life-enhancing medicines and treatments.

Mr McKeon said the lack of a viable, competitive Irish market was discouraging an increasing number of biosimilar manufacturers from launching their products in Ireland.

Also, new medicines could be funded from savings made as a result of increased use of biosimilars.

“The minister for health and his department must now step up and provide the leadership needed to drive the switch to more affordable medicines, otherwise patients will continue to be the losers,” said Mr McKeon.

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