by Susan Mitchell; The Business Post

A new national organisation seeking reform of the government’s existing medicines policy will launch this week.

The group, called Medicines for Ireland, results from a merger of large pharmaceutical suppliers and includes members of the Healthcare Enterprise Alliance and the Irish Generic Manufacturers Association.

Accord Healthcare, Consilient Healthcare, Clonmel Healthcare, Fannin Healthcare, Mylan, Pinewood Healthcare, Rowa Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceuticals are among the members.

The companies produce generic medicines and biosimilar medicines, which can be used in place of expensive biologics.

Medicines are typically manufactured through chemical synthesis. Biologic medicines differ as they are derived in some way from living organisms. They include vaccines issues, blood and blood components, as well as gene therapy.

Usage of generic medicines – which are identical copies of the original brand name drugs that are typically sold at cheaper prices – has increased significantly in Ireland recent years.

This has been fuelled by government legislation designed to encourage generic substitution and make savings.

However, Ireland’s uptake of biosimilars remains low, even though spending in this area has increased.

Medicines for Ireland is expected to up pressure on health minister Simon Harris to facilitate the use of more biosimilars, which are typically cheaper than the original.

At a recent event, Sandra Gannon, general manager of Teva Ireland, said uptake of “better value biosimilar medicines is extremely low. Competition is being stifled and prices are higher than they need to be.”

Gannon claimed that reforms to Government policy on biologics could “save the HSE as much as €168 million annually.”

Members of the Medicines for Ireland group are frustrated by the failure of health minister Simon Harris to launch a public consultation on biosimilars, which was promised at the end of February.

Medicines for Ireland is expected to publish a set of policy proposals over the coming weeks and will be urging the Minister and Department of Health to enact them.