Irish cancer patients may not always be given access to the latest drugs coming on to the market because of years of flat growth in the funding of new medicines.

That is according to the CEO of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, Oliver O’Connor. He points out that it is not down to the price of the medicines. The association has agreed with the government to set the price of medicines as an average of their cost across 14 EU markets but, he believes, new drug uptake still falls far below average.

“It’s very easy to say that new medicines aren’t being taken up because of their cost, and that drugs companies should do more,” he says. “The fact is, the prices are agreed as an average of 14 EU countries and, of those countries, Ireland is last among Western European countries for the adoption of new medicines. When our European Association, EFPIA, ranks countries for new drug adoption, Ireland comes around 18th out of 28.”

 

Ireland lags behind

 

In 2016, only around one in five new cancer medicines launched in the previous two years made it on to the Irish market, compared to three in four in EU leader, Germany. For O’Connor, this means there is a risk that Irish patients are being let down because they are far less likely to have access to the latest treatments than other EU citizens. For him, the issue is not so much the cost of drugs but rather the level of investment by the government in new medicines.

“We had years of flat growth in health spending since the global financial crisis and once you get behind, you build up a back log,” he says.

“It’s a little like a conveyer belt, we had a crunch on public spending from 2009 but the new medicines kept coming along, so we’ve been playing catch up ever since. The pharmaceutical companies we represent provide discounts and rebates, but there is only a small amount of new Exchequer money coming in. It works out at around €14 million out of a €2 billion budget so it’s a pretty small proportion.

“In other EU countries they generally ensure that new medicines funding grows by around 2% to 3% per year, so, effectively, there is a commitment to bringing the latest treatments to their citizens. It is something that would really help the situation in Ireland.”

 

Constructive talks

 

O’Connor says that more dialogue between the IPHA, and the Irish Government is needed as indicated by the Minister for Health at the IPHA Annual Conference last year. The aim would be to secure a commitment to better processes and faster adoption of new medicines supported by Exchequer funding growth.

Ideally, funding would grow by a known percentage each year, so the industry knows the funds are available. At the moment, O’Connor laments, the extra money currently allocated is not sufficient to reverse years of under investment in new treatments.