Experts in Australia call for national register on new therapies


Australia needs a national register to track the cost and effectiveness of drugs paid for by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) reimbursement program, as newer therapies often fail to make the cut in parts of the country.

A call by experts on the issue of access to cutting-edge therapies--approved but not always available at regional hospitals because of budget concerns--comes as Australians head to national polls on July 2 with healthcare costs and access a key concern.

Former Goldman Sachs ($GS) banker Malcolm Turnbull won the prime minister's post last year after defeating Tony Abbott in a Liberal Party contest sparked by voter anger over issues such as co-payments for prescription reimbursements. Turnbull has also been outspoken on the need for a biotech push in Australia.

But industry groups such as Medicines Australia have complained that the government has dragged its feet on approving new drugs, notably in cancer, and has repeatedly questioned the cost and benefits of newer therapies over existing drugs.

One reason for the delay in adopting newer therapies, according to the University of Queensland's Charles Denaro, is that the hospital system is fragmented with varied budget concerns, online news site Medicalxpress said.

"Each hospital has a formulary or register of drugs that can be used, but deciding whether to add an expensive new drug is problematic because hospital budgets are capped," Denaro told Medicalxpress. "Decisions across Australia are haphazard and access to drugs might depend on where a patient lives."

Australia has attempted to curb growing costs for medicines reimbursed under the PBS by boosting the use of generics, bringing in co-payments and challenging companies on pricing.

But Denaro told Medicalxpress that costs continue to rise, reaching A$9.15 billion in 2014 from A$6 billion in 2005.

"Over the same time the cost of those programs within the PBS which subsidize the most expensive drugs doubled," Denaro said.

A national program to assess clinical outcomes would go a long way in deciding which therapies give the best value, Jennifer Martin, chair of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Newcastle, told Medicalxpress.

"There needs to be funding for independent assessment--and those drugs that don't live up to their initial promise should be considered for removal from the PBS," she told Medicalxpress.

- here's the story from Medicalxpress