Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Primary Care, John Brassil has said the State is failing to get value for money through the use of biosimilar drugs instead of drugs that are currently being prescribed and dispensed in the Irish health system.
Deputy Brassil, a community pharmacist by profession, raised the issue during Questions to the Taoiseach today when he appealed to him to revisit the use of biosimilar drugs and make any necessary changes to legislation or regulations to ensure they can be used appropriately.
Biosimilar drugs are similar but not identical versions of the equivalent biological medicines. They have been proven to be as safe and as effective as their equivalents and are in general considerably more cost effective.
“I raised, in particular, the issue of a biosimilar known as Benepali which is used to treat a number of forms of arthritis after meeting with Medicines for Ireland.
“Instead of prescribing Benepali, the HSE has directed doctors to prescribe a drug known as Embrel which, following a reduction from the manufacturer, retails at €883 per box per month.
“Benepali currently costs €772 per month per box – a difference of €101 per month per box. Every month, 14,000 boxes of Embrel are dispensed in Ireland.
“On this drug alone, the HSE could make a saving of nearly €17 million in a full year helping to recoup tax payer’s money for other drugs or services.
“There are 11 biosimilar drugs available in Ireland at the minute, yet all are on the non-interchangeable list meaning that doctors and consultants cannot decide to prescribe them. A simple change in policy would radically cut the cost to the HSE.
“At a time when health authorities are under significant pressure to pay for high tech drugs for our citizens with rare diseases, it baffles me that the HSE and the Department of Health are not making more use out of biosimilar drugs which can cut the cost of treatment for many people and the State.
“I am calling on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health to do all that they can to expedite a greater use of biosimilar drugs as soon as possible.
“The provision of health care is progressively getting more and more expensive. Anything we can do to reduce costs on the tax payer must be investigated. Minister Harris must do what is necessary and take biosimilar drugs off the non-interchangeable list,” concluded Brassil.