Taxpayers and patients lose out over lack of lower cost medicines

Major reform is still needed to pass on savings on medicines to taxpayers and patients.

The Healthcare Enterprise Alliance (HEA) said the Government’s pricing agreement with pharmaceutical manufacturers is failing to deliver the best possible value.

When the agreement was announced last July, the HEA warned that the agreement would restrict the entry of lower cost biosimilar medicines and reduce their uptake.

The HEA, which represents some of the largest suppliers of prescription medicines in Ireland, said an analysis of drugs sales to be presented at a conference in Dublin tomorrow supported its view.

It pointed out that a better value biosimilar medicine introduced last September, Benepali, is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but just three packs were sold in four months.

Over the period, there were over 19,000 sales of the more expensive equivalent biologic medicine, Enbrel.

Also, just 153 packs of a better value biosimilar drug, Abasaglar were sold over the past 12 months for the treatment of diabetes, compared to almost 135,000 sales of the more expensive equivalent biologic medicine, Lantus. There are estimated to be more than 225,000 diabetes sufferers in Ireland.

The HEA said there were no incentives for cheaper biosimilar manufacturers to enter the Irish market, ultimately costing the HSE and the patient more.

The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) said last July that drug price deals would see total savings of €785m from member companies, an average of nearly €200m a year.

In 2015, the State spent €1.7bn on medicines.

Only two better value biosimilar medicines entered the Irish market in the past year.

“For biosimilar manufacturers, blockages and the lack of supportive biosimilar policies mean Ireland is neither attractive nor sustainable, and ultimately will not deliver the best possible savings for patients and taxpayers,” it said.

According to the HEA, there are 19 better value biosimilar medicines now approved in Europe but just nine are available in Ireland.

It added that two new biosimilars recently approved by the European Medicines Agency to treat lymphoma, leukaemia and osteoporosis could result in savings of €8m over more expensive biologic equivalent when introduced in Ireland.

A biosimilar medicine can be authorised for use when the ‘data exclusivity’ period on the original ‘reference’ medicine has expired.

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