December 7, 2018
As reported by the Irish Times, the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (Ipha) is seeking to foster a stronger relationship between the Irish pharmaceutical industry, the Irish government and Ireland’s Health Services (HSE). Ipha has expressed an interest in developing a relationship more akin to a partnership with the Irish government, hoping to shift the government’s view of the Irish pharmaceutical industry away from a profit-taking enterprise singularly focused on charging high prices.
As the Irish population ages , much like the Canadian population, budgetary and price concerns will be difficult to ignore. The existing drug price and access agreement reached between Ipha and the Irish government in 2016 will save more than €750million for the HSE over four years. The agreement dictates that drug prices in Ireland will be set according to an average price based on comparison across 14 European countries and will be reduced annually.
Despite these savings, the cost of new pharmaceutical therapies is high. Though critics advocate for tying the prices for successful new therapies directly to the costs of development, Ipha President Aidan Lynch has emphasized that there is also a need for prices to take into account the cost of development of those drugs which ultimately do not make it to market. Noting that “[t]here are an enormous amount of failures for every success”, Lynch is hopeful that the industry is “probably heading into a space where it’s more data-driven than it was in the past [which] should lead to less failures. So in theory the price of developing medicines should start to fall.”
In addition to concerns with respect to pricing, there is also some disagreement about how biosimilar drugs in the Irish market should be treated. Companies in the biosimilar and generics space argue that the drug price and access agreement actively discourages the entry of biosimilars into the Irish pharma market. Lynch has stated that Ipha is “not against biosimilars” but strongly believes “that there should be no substitution of biologics and biosimilars unless a healthcare professional is involved,” and is “absolutely against pharmacy-level substitution.” Ultimately, Mr. Lynch remains unequivocal that “anything that undermines patent, patent life, is something (Ipha) just can’t support.”
Ireland’s relatively low level of participation in clinical trials is also an important factor in discussions with respect to the pharmaceutical industry. The phenomenon can be at least partially explained by the small patient populations for many of the rare disease areas being researched by many drug companies. However, Ipha feels as though the Irish government is not doing enough to make Ireland an attractive location for clinical trials and hopes to make this issue part of the ongoing conversation about access and innovation.
Ireland, one of the world’s largest exporters of pharmaceuticals, has flourished as a centre for excellence in pharmaceutical manufacturing, but this strong growth is not without its challenges. It remains to be seen how the relationship between Ipha and the government will evolve and what impact this evolution will have on the Irish pharmaceutical industry.