New Zealand’s pharmaceutical management agency PHARMAC made new investments in 45 medicines during the year ended June 30, 2010, the highest number since 1999.

A NZ$40 million boost in government funding enabled the agency to add 20 new drugs to the Pharmaceutical Schedule and widen access to a further 25 during the year, benefitting a further 149,000 patients, says PHARMAC in its annual report for 2009-10.

Without the extra NZ$40 million, “we would not have been able to grow the funded medicines list by as much as we have,” said the agency’s acting chief executive, Steffan Crausaz. The 20 new medicines funded during the year are those which, “in PHARMAC’s view, provided the greatest health gain from the many spending choices we had available to us. It was important to prioritise our spending to ensure we met our objective of getting the best health outcomes from the available budget, because it is never possible to fund everything. We are confident that our decisions in the past year enabled us to meet that objective,” he added.

Products representing key funding decisions for PHARMAC during the year include:

Actelion’s Tracleer (bosentan) and Ventavis (iloprost) and Pfizer’s Revatio (sildenafil), used in the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH);
GlaxoSmithKline’s smoking-cessation drug Zyban (bupropion);
Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Sprycel (dasatinib), a new treatment for chronic myeloid leukaemia;
Merck & Co's' antiviral Isentress (raltegravir), used to treat HIV/AIDS;
Abbott/Eisai’s Humira (adalimumab), for which access was widened to treat a range of autoimmune conditions;
Roche’s MabThera (rituximab), for which access was widened to enable its use in the treatment of treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and
Eli Lilly’s Gemzaar (gemcitabine), for which wider access has been funded for the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease and T-cell lymphoma.

PHARMAC also made savings of over NZ $40 million on its existing medicines spending through contracting initiatives, says the report, which adds that 3.2 million people across the nation received a total of 37.1 million funded prescriptions during the year.

The agency spent a total of NZ693.8 million, compared to its budget of NZ694 million, which is “a great result for District Health Boards, which pay the bills for pharmaceutical funding,” said Mr Crausaz.

- Last week, PHARMAC launched its new on-line Application Tracker, which draws together information about the funding proposals being considered by the agency. The new tool “will give people easy access to information on our assessment of pharmaceutical funding applications,” Mr Crausaz added.