Medicines

Senate overlooked price of cancer drugs: experts

Tuesday, 12 Apr 2016


Experts have criticised a Senate report on access to innovative  cancer drugs for failing to take into account the impact of drug prices.

Published late last year the report titled Availability of new, innovative and specialist cancer drugs in Australia addressed the health burden of cancer on society; the impact on patients of delayed access to cancer medicines; the challenges in assessing cost-effectiveness, as well as ways to improve health technology assessment (HTA).

However, according to ethics experts from the University of Sydney the report lacked an “in-depth consideration of why new cancer drugs cost so much, and what could be done about it”.

“The report’s overlooking of drug prices is significant because adjusting HTA processes to provide earlier access to more drugs without reforming the way we price cancer drugs will mean an increasingly large proportion of our health budget will be directed to medicines in general, and cancer medicines in particular” they wrote in a perspective article in the MJA.

There were lessons to be learnt from other countries; for instance the UK had inadvertently paid more for cancer drugs than most other European countries after establishing a Cancer Drugs Fund that was designed to provide access to drugs not approved by its cost-effectiveness body, they cautioned.

They suggested one reason the Senate report failed to focus on drug prices was that price and profit expectations for pharmaceutical markets were set internationally, with Australia being a ‘small player’  in the market.

Nevertheless, there was a need for greater transparency around both HTA and price negotiations, they said.

At the moment decisions about access to cancer medicines were made behind closed doors because of a ‘perceived need’ to maintain commercial confidentiality.

“It is understandable that companies would not want to completely reveal their commercial interests, but without greater openness about how funding decisions are made…we will remain unable to optimise the utilisation of our health resources in a way that works for both society and the pharmaceutical industry,” they concluded.

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