Monday 16 September 2019

Costly new cancer treatments to strain drugs budget

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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Expensive new blockbuster medicines being developed to treat cancer look set to put Ireland's spiralling drugs budget under even more intense pressure, the Oireachtas Health Committee was told yesterday.

These include CAR T-cell treatments, a form of therapy that changes a patient's immune cells to help them hunt down and kill cancer cells in the body.

To date, they have been approved to treat two types of cancer, a form of lymphoma and leukaemia.

"Impressive results have been reported in clinical trials but they are expensive with a price tag of €450,000 per patient," said Dr Kieran Harkin, one of the founding members of Access to Medicines Ireland (AMI).

The group includes medical professionals, patients and concerned members of the public who are campaigning to ensure that drugs are made accessible at a fair price and that medical research and innovation is directed at areas of greatest global health need.

It comes as the latest controversy rages over the decision of the HSE not to make the drug Spinraza available to young people who suffer from spinal muscular atrophy, a rare muscle-wasting condition.

Impressed: Dr Kieran Harkin said results in tests were good
Impressed: Dr Kieran Harkin said results in tests were good

The HSE said the drug would cost €600,000 per patient for the first year and €380,000 annually afterwards.

Further talks are expected with Biogen, which makes the drug.

"The fundamental problem of the current model is a 20-year period of market exclusivity - a monopoly granted as the reward for successful research and development. During that time, the pharmaceutical companies set prices with a focus on extracting the maximum amount that a buyer is willing to pay for a medicine," Dr Harkin said.

The group is calling for more public funding to be directed preferentially towards drugs projects that are needs-driven, demonstrate transparency, and are likely to result in an affordable end product.

This could take the form of an EU fund of billions of euro.

Asked by Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Stephen Donnelly how this would work if private drug companies could charge a healthy margin, Dr Harkin said there should be a system of reward built in.

He suggested that companies could tender for various elements of the drug production.

Irish Independent

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