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Access to new medicines slow and long

Media release

26 March 2008

Access to new medicines slow and long

The health of New Zealanders is increasingly compromised because we don't have the same access to medicines as other developed nations. That's the message being delivered to politicians today in the Researched Medicines Industry (RMI) Association's election manifesto launched in Auckland to a panel of MPs and the Minister of Health.

The manifesto says political parties should consider including three key policies when developing their election manifestos:

1. Improved access to medicines 2. The development of an attractive environment for pharmaceutical company R&D investment 3. Efficient regulation of medicines.

"A review of New Zealand's medicine strategy at the end of last year has not changed the fact that our access to modern innovative medicines is severely restricted, especially when compared to other OECD countries," said RMI chair, Dr Pippa MacKay.

Statistics show that the average spend on pharmaceuticals is only a third of that spent in other OECD countries[i]. New Zealand's public funding of pharmaceuticals per capita is just 76 percent[ii] of Australia's.

"The chance of a new medicine ever being approved for public funding in this country is very limited.

"Between 2000 and 2006 PHARMAC listed just 20 new prescription medicines for public funding on our community schedule,[iii] compared to 78 listed in Australia in the same period."

The RMI believes any new government should consider spending on pharmaceuticals as an investment in better health for New Zealanders as prescription medicines play a vital role in preventing and treating disease and disability.

"The use of new and innovative medicines can help reduce hospitalisation and painful interventions, they help patients lead more normal lives, often avoid the need for costly carers and, in some cases, save lives.

"Successive governments have placed extensive emphasis on cost while overlooking economic and long-term benefits investing in new medicines could bring."

As well as improved access to medicines, the RMI is calling for more efficient regulation and approval of new medicines.

"The failure by Parliament to progress the establishment of the Australia New Zealand Therapeutic Products Authority has left the assessment and approval of new medicines for registration in a frustrating hiatus. This means there are very few applications for registration of new medicines as Medsafe simply does not have the capacity to process applications within a reasonable timeframe," she said.

Dr MacKay said the overtly hostile commercial climate confronting pharmaceutical companies places New Zealand at a serious disadvantage when competing for valuable international clinical trials of new medicines.

"This simply means that New Zealanders do not have early access to new medicines, and that clinicians and researchers have become disillusioned with opportunities here, and are leaving in droves to practice in other countries.

"Over the past 10 years investment by pharmaceutical companies in R&D has dropped from over $100 million to just $20 million.

"Rather than discouraging pharmaceutical R&D - as PHARMAC's cost-minimising policies do - government funding should be provided to encourage clinical trials for innovative medicines and to attract and retain clinicians and scientists in New Zealand," she said.

The RMI hopes its election manifesto will be adopted by political parties in order to address the poor access that New Zealanders have to new medicines, the lack of transparency in approving which medicines are funded and an inhibitive R&D environment.

"We cannot continue to have our citizens deprived of the life-saving new medicines that are available to other OECD countries. Better access to medicines should be part of any political party's core health strategy."


ENDS


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