Access to recent innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases mainly affecting older people (aged 61 and over) varies significantly across 25 European Union (EU) member states, reflecting different approaches to managing demand for treatment, says a new report from IMS Health.

For most diseases particularly affecting this age group, Europe continues to rely heavily on drugs which have been available for more than two decades, it says. The leading five drugs in seven out of 11 of these therapy areas – Alzheimer’s, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), osteoporosis, dyslipidaemia, genito-urinary conditions, cardiovascular, thrombosis, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s and hypertension – have been on the market for more than 20 years and one, the cardiovascular treatment Lanoxin (digoxin), has been available for 69 years. Only in Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, dyslipidaemia and genito-urinary therapies have the leading five products been introduced since 1988.

Comparing countries with the highest and lowest usage rates, the study also finds: a 10-fold difference in drugs used to treat COPD; a six-fold difference in drugs for treating osteoporosis and dyslipidaemia; and a 20-fold difference in anti-Alzheimer’s therapies. However, for anti-hypertensives it finds only a two-fold difference in usage rates.

On average, fewer than half of the New Chemical Entities (NCEs) introduced globally over the past ten years are accessible to citizens across the EU, and older citizens of the more recent EU member states generally have fewer new drugs available to them. For example, Germany’s citizens have access to 60% of available NCEs, while only 34% are available in Estonia, the research shows.

However, the newer EU states have generally adopted new medicines more rapidly in the past five years than they did previously - particularly Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia.

Demographic shifts and increased medicines use by the current lower-use countries will drive significantly higher consumption rates through 2030, the report forecasts. To match the current average level of utilization by the top five countries and to reflect aging populations, it expects usage to grow 50% in Hungary and Bulgaria and more than 175% in Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Italy. New therapies and shifts in epidemiology could result in even greater increases, it adds.

The number of people in the EU aged 61 and over is forecast to grow 42 million by 2030, against a forecast decline in the population as a whole, and this will bring unprecedented economic and social consequences, says IMS. The differences revealed in the report may become accentuated over the next 20 years, as the rapid increase in the number of older Europeans and their health needs will strain resources across the EU, it adds.

- The study is entitled Ageing Well: A Healthy Deal for Older Citizens of the European Union?