Sunday 18 February 2018

HSE says €64m price tag for new cancer drug is 'unaffordable'

Professor John Crown Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Professor John Crown Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The drugs company manufacturing a new cancer medicine is demanding such a high price for the drug that it would cost the State €64m over a five-year period.

The HSE, which has an additional €7m for new advanced cancer drugs this year, said it could not afford to pay out that amount of money.

It was responding to calls by a number of cancer specialists for the HSE to pay for the drug pembrolizumab which, they say, has made a major difference to their patients with advanced diseases.

The group of patients had been given the drug made by Merck Sharp and Dohme for free on compassionate grounds over the past year. However, the company now wants the HSE to fund the drug for the patients.

It is being assessed by a special group of experts who advise the HSE on the efficacy of a medicine.

But they must also look at its value for money based on the price demanded.

The HSE has also been called on to make a second drug, Nivolizumab made by Bristol-Myers Squib, available for treatment of patients with cancer of the lungs or kidneys.

A similar free access programme which has allowed a group of patients use the drug on a trial basis is ending next week. It must also be assessed along with the price demanded.

The HSE said yesterday it must operate within its allocated budget for 2016 and within this prioritise the allocation of resources across the entire health system.

The Irish Independent yesterday highlighted the rip-off prices drug companies are still charging for some medicines.

A Cork cancer patient said he can get a six-month supply of the drug Bicalutamide in Newry for €50 while paying €144 for a month's supply in the Republic.

The HSE said it "engages robustly with manufacturers to achieve the best price and the best value for Irish patients and the taxpayer".

A spokesman said that it is widely recognised that Ireland is already paying higher prices for medicines than many of our European neighbour states.

"The single biggest barrier to new drugs approvals in Ireland is the high prices that manufacturers are seeking to charge," he said.

"Lower prices would enable the HSE to afford more innovative drugs for more patients as they become available.

"The HSE will continue to engage with manufacturers in the best interests of patients and the taxpayer," added the spokesman.

St Vincent's Hospital cancer specialist Prof John Crown yesterday called on the HSE to approve the drugs, saying they were "game-changers". Patients who could benefit from the drugs are running out of time, he said. Health Minister Simon Harris said the assessment process is ongoing.

Irish Independent

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