Monday 27 May 2019

Pharmacists: 'We can save State millions on biologics'

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Priscilla Lynch

Pharmacists are demanding they be given the right to substitute cheaper 'biosimilar' alternatives to expensive and complex 'biologic' medicines.

Biologic medicines are used to treat numerous diseases including debilitating chronic conditions like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.

While biologics are life-changing medicines for many, they are an increasing cost burden to the State as they are being used to treat more diseases, and more patients. The HSE is facing a potential financial overrun of between €200-300m for the first six months of the year, after going €100m over budget for January and February, according to recent Department of Health figures.

IPU Secretary General Darragh O'Loughlin says failure to implement its proposal to the department to allow pharmacists to substitute biologic medicines with their biosimilar versions is costing the HSE €2m in potential savings every week.

"If the Government had heeded IPU advice when we submitted the proposal last September, approximately €80m could have been saved to date… Substituting expensive biological medicines with more cost-effective biosimilars would require a legislative change, but could save the Exchequer up to €800m over five years," said Mr O'Loughlin.

He added: "This is the fastest and most effective way to ensure a rapid and meaningful increase in the use of biosimilars."

The HSE's annual medicines bill is about €1.7bn a year, and has remained relatively stable since 2012, largely due to a successful programme of generic substitution and reference pricing.

However, while medical card patient medicine costs have reduced, 'high tech' medicine costs, which include biologics, have grown by a third.

Over €200m is currently spent by the HSE on biologic medicines that have a biosimilar available, or due to become available, in 2018. However, Ireland has a very low uptake of biosimilar medicines and lags behind many countries in this regard.

The Government is currently developing a National Biosimilar Medicines Policy, and published a consultation paper on the issue last August.

Mr O'Loughlin claimed that in the absence of specific steps being taken to improve biosimilar uptake, annual HSE spending on biologic medicines could reach €900m by 2020.

Since 2013, when pharmacists were legally enabled to substitute prescribed medicines for generic versions under set protocols, the use of generic medicines in Ireland increased fivefold, saving the State over €667m by 2017.

Sunday Independent

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