Ireland is almost four months slower to make new cancer medicines available to patients compared to the average across the European Union’s 27 members, according to a survey commissioned by the research-based biopharmaceutical industry.
The annual EFPIA Patient WAIT Indicator Survey measures availability and time to reimbursement of medicines newly authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The survey of 39 European countries, including 27 in the European Union, covers the full four years between 2017 and 2020 using medicines authorised by the EMA.
Cancer medicines took 661 days from market authorisation by the EMA until they were reimbursed and available for patients in Ireland. The European Union average was 545 days. In Germany, the time between authorisation and availability for cancer medicines was 100 days while it was 140 days in Denmark. Sweden was over twice as fast as Ireland. Overall, Ireland ranks 27th out of 35 countries reporting data in Europe for speed of access to newly authorised cancer medicines.
The figures, gathered by data analysts IQVIA, places Ireland 24th out of 35 countries reporting data for time to availability for 160 innovative new medicines, with an average of 541 days to reimbursement. That is some distance short of the standard set in Irish and European law of 180 days after a request for reimbursement.
Among western European countries, only Portugal was slower than Ireland in making innovative new medicines available to patients. Other countries, including Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Italy and France are faster. Germany is over four times faster than Ireland to make innovative new medicines available to patients through public reimbursement. It takes over three times as long to make innovative new medicines available to patients in Ireland compared to Denmark.
For orphan medicines which treat rare diseases, it takes 870 days from EMA market authorisation to availability for patients in Ireland. The European Union average is 636 days. That makes Ireland the slowest country in western Europe to make orphan medicines available to patients. Other countries in central and eastern Europe, like Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Slovakia, are faster than Ireland.
Oliver O’Connor, Chief Executive of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, described the survey as an evidence-based barometer of Ireland’s persistent under-performance on speed of access to innovative new medicines before recent Budget funding decisions.
“In the two most recent Budgets, the Government allocated €80 million 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. 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 and their families rightly expect that. This is particularly the case for patients with rare diseases where new medicines are authorised. The Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Amendment Bill 2021, proposed by Fianna Fáil TD Pádraig O’Sullivan, is a step in the right direction.
“In relation to cancer, we are making great strides but to reach the best survival rates in Europe we need to be among the best for speed and availability of new cancer medicines.
“That we are coming from a historically low base should inspire us all find ways to get the latest treatments to patients quickly. Innovation without access is meaningless. We should complement our strong medicines manufacturing footprint with a high-performance access environment. In other words, we should match scale with speed,” said Mr O’Connor.
In December 2021, the industry agreed with the State the four-year Framework Agreement on the Supply and Pricing of Medicines. It means that medicines, brought forward by the research-based biopharmaceutical industry after years of research and development, will be available to patients faster through an improved funding framework.