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New research Irish cancer patients wait four months longer for new drugs than rest of EU

It took 661 days from medicines getting green light from the European Medicines Agency to patients being reimbursed by the HSE

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Cancer patients in Ireland are waiting on average four months longer than people with the disease in other European countries for access to new medicines, research has revealed.

Ireland is in 27th place out of 35 countries for speed of access to the new medicines, according to the rankings in the annual patient wait survey from the biopharmaceutical industry.

It took 661 days from cancer medicines getting the green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to patients here being reimbursed by the HSE.

That compared with an EU average of 545 days.

In Germany, the gap is 100 days and in Denmark, 140 days.

Among western European countries, only Portugal took longer than Ireland in making new medicines available.

When it comes to orphan medicines to treat rare diseases, it takes 870 days from EMA market authorisation to availability for patients here. The EU average is 636 days.

"That makes Ireland the slowest country in western Europe to make orphan medicines available to patients," the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) said.

"Other countries in central and eastern Europe, like Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia, are faster than Ireland."

IPHA chief executive Oliver O'Connor said: "In the two most recent budgets, the Government allocated €80m for innovative new medicines.

"Although the survey predates this investment, it still demonstrates Ireland's poor environment for speed of access to innovative new medicines.

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"Through sustained investment and the new supply agreement, Ireland should aspire to be among the fastest countries in Europe to adopt innovative new medicines."

"The two recent budgets will help but there is still more that can be done to bring the standards of care and treatment to European norms. Patients…rightly expect that. This is particularly the case for patients with rare diseases where new medicines are authorised."

Asked to comment, a spokeswoman for the HSE said that last December the industry agreed with the State to the four-year framework agreement on the supply and pricing of medicines.

"It means medicines, brought forward by the research-based biopharmaceutical industry after years of R&D, will be available to patients faster through an improved funding framework," the spokeswoman added.

The HSE approved 29 new medicines and 21 new uses of existing medicines last year. It also expanded reimbursement for two further drugs.

Among the new medicines approved were Acalabrutinib, an oral drug for monotherapy treatment of previously untreated chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Another medicine is Alirocumab, administered by injection for the treatment of high cholesterol levels.

They also approved Atezolizumab, a drug administered intravenously in hospitals for the first-line treatment of adult patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.

She said the HSE has a "robust assessment and commercial negotiations process for all new medicines. These processes challenge inappropriate costings from applicant companies and deliver improved value for money.

"The HSE robustly assessed each of the new medicines and each new use of an existing medicine, engaged in commercial negotiations and carefully took into account all of the factors it is statutorily required to.

"It agreed revised commercial terms which represent significant improvements on the original prices proposed.

"In excess of €398m in additional costs over the next five years will be avoided on these new medicines following price reductions as a consequence of assessments carried out."

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