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PHARMAC cautious approach pays off

Media Release

PHARMAC cautious approach pays off

As the German drug and chemicals company, Bayer counts the cost of withdrawing its heart drug due to dangerous side-effects, PHARMAC says the move reinforces the need for continuing caution over which drugs receive Government funding, says Chief Executive Wayne McNee.

Pharmaceutical company Bayer has just announced that it is withdrawing its new cholesterol-lowering drug from the market as it has been linked to 31 deaths in the United States. The drug had been expected to become Bayer’s best selling product.

Wayne McNee says the development is a timely reminder that PHARMAC must continue to be vigilant and cautious when it comes to deciding which drugs are subsidised.

He says while the withdrawn drug has been approved in New Zealand for use, an application to PHARMAC for Government funding was turned down.

“The reality is once these drugs get the green light for Government funding they become much more widely prescribed and we have to be extremely cautious in making these decisions. New drugs go through a very robust process in drug registration agencies around the world. However in New Zealand there is a big difference between registration and funding when it comes to patient access to drugs.”

He says this is by no means an isolated case with similar incidences seen with other drugs.

“PHARMAC did not fund the diet drug dexfenfluramine which was later found to cause heart valve disorders. In another case PHARMAC was cautious about the use of Parkinson’s Disease treatment Tolcapone and placed prescribing restrictions on it. This drug was later shown to cause liver problems in some patients.”

Wayne McNee says sometimes PHARMAC will place restrictions on who can receive certain drugs as part of this cautious approach.

“These are potent medicines and as a result can have serious side effects and that is why they are prescription medicines. While all drugs go through clinical trials, the true side effects are sometimes not clear until they are more widely promoted and prescribed.”

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