Thursday 23 November 2017

Doctor warned against deal for costly drug

Dr Susan O'Reilly
Dr Susan O'Reilly

Gordon Deegan

A leading doctor warned that making a costly life-saving drug available to patients with a rare blood disease would make striking deals with drug firms more difficult.

The Health Services Executive (HSE) announced earlier this year that it was extending access to Eculizumab – commonly known as Soliris – for sufferers of the rare blood disease Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria and atypical Haemolytic Uraemic.

This followed a high-profile public campaign in relation to a number of patients who were being denied the drug. The cost of the drug per patient is about €430,000 per year.

However, the former director of the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme, Dr Susan O’Reilly, has warned that making Soliris available would make it more difficult to strike deals with drug manufacturers.

In a briefing document from last July, released by the Department of Health in response to a Freedom of Information request, Dr O’Reilly said any decision around Soliris should consider “the message it sends out to industry regarding our acceptance of the intransigence shown by the company on price – this will make striking deals on future medicines more difficult”.

Dr O’Reilly said the HSE Drugs Committee “cannot recommend in favour” of extending access to Soliris, adding: “To do so might be used as a precedent by other companies and will lead to the health service incurring a substantial cost for which no budget provision has been made or exists.”

She said this might “ultimately result in less access to new medicines for Irish patients”.

Dr O’Reilly said any decision to make Soliris available would need to take into consideration “what other service should be cut back in order to provide the necessary funding for this drug”.

The HSE had failed to get the manufacturer of Soliris, Alexion, to reduce the price of the drug. Announcing the extension of Soliris to new patients, HSE director general Tony O’Brien conceded it was “an astronomical price to pay for any drug”.

Irish Independent

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