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Schizophrenia to benefit from $55 million PHARMAC

PHARMAC has announced it will boost spending on drugs to treat schizophrenia by $55 million - its biggest ever funding increase for a single drug group.

This additional money will ensure patients with schizophrenia are able to obtain three new expensive anti psychotic drugs, and the decision to put more money into these drugs is based on the benefit they bring to patients, and the fact that they are good value for money.

General Manager of PHARMAC, Wayne McNee, says this will be welcome news for patients needing treatment for psychosis, and shows PHARMAC treats these illnesses with the seriousness they deserve.

The extra money will be spread over five years and will add to around $20 million a year already spent on the three drugs - clozapine, risperidone, and olanzapine. This means that the newest drug, olanzapine, will be available for more patients than it is currently.

Wayne McNee says PHARMAC has widened access to many drugs in its six year history but this is the biggest increase in funding ever granted for one group of drugs, and the significance of this can’t be overlooked.

“This decision reflects our commitment to making sure patients get the treatment they need. Mental illness affects the whole of society, and it is vital that we make sure that people get the best treatment available to help improve the quality of patients’ lives.”

The latest development comes after agreement was reached between PHARMAC and Eli Lilly, the supplier of olanzapine, on lower prices and wider access to the drug. It is expected that twice as many people will now be treated with olanzapine.

Wayne McNee says the agreement with Eli Lilly is the result of months of hard work from both parties.

“In many ways this was one of our most difficult negotiations to date. However, the fact that we were able to reach agreement is testimony to the degree of co-operation between PHARMAC and pharmaceutical companies, and shows just how far we’ve come. The real benefactors of this new environment are patients – in this case those with schizophrenia.” says Mr McNee.

It’s only nine months since PHARMAC took over management of subsidised access to these three medicines. In that time, the number of patients for whom subsidies for the drugs are paid has almost doubled.

“We have taken steps that help in the treatment of more than 2,000 people with mental illness in the short time since PHARMAC took over management of this area.”

Access to clozapine and risperidone was freed up earlier this year after separate arrangements were reached with their suppliers. Mr McNee says the Eli Lilly agreement is more good news. The new arrangement will allow the number of patients with access to olanzapine to double this year to 3,100 and increase four-fold over the next five years with costs shared between PHARMAC and the company.

However, Mr McNee says olanzapine remains significantly more expensive than risperidone even with the new agreement. “Clinicians must use it judiciously and keep using less expensive alternatives where appropriate.”

This year olanzapine has been subsidised under special conditions including a limit on how much could be spent in total. As a result of high demand and the higher cost of olanzapine, those limits were exceeded, and PHARMAC has been working to find a long-term solution.

Under the new agreement, the special conditions under which patients are eligible for olanzapine have been relaxed. New patients do not require a trial of risperidone first and all patients can move on to olanzapine more quickly if they do not respond to risperidone.

[Ends]

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