New Zealanders are now able to track the progress of drugmakers’ applications to have their products funded by the nation’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency, PHARMAC.

The Application Tracker, a new on-line tool now available to the public on PHARMAC’s website, brings together information on medicines being considered by the agency for funding. A “small amount of information” will always need to remain confidential to ensure PHARMAC is able to negotiate with large pharmaceutical companies on behalf of New Zealanders, says the agency’s acting chief executive, Steffan Crausaz; nevertheless, the Tracker gets people as close as possible to PHARMAC’s assessment of individual funding applications, he adds.

The tool enables people to search for medicines by brand name, pharmaceutical name or therapeutic group, or the name of the applicant. It brings together the results of committee and sub-committee deliberations on the application, together with recommendations and the status of the application.

At present the Tracker contains data dating back to 2008, but older information will be included in future.

“If people have an interest in a particular drug that is being considered by PHARMAC, the Application Tracker will provide an improved way of keeping tabs on its progress through our assessment process,” said Mr Crausaz. He added that the agency is looking forward to receiving feedback on ways to further develop the Tracker.

This initiative aligns with Actioning Medicines New Zealand, the government strategy originally published in December 2007 which set out plans to support the medicines system in delivering: - “quality, safe and effective medicines for New Zealanders;” - access to the medicines needed by the population, “regardless of their individual ability to pay and within the government funding provided;” and - “optimal use of medicines resulting in optimal health outcomes.”

The original Action Plan called for some improvements to the transparency of PHARMAC’s processes, and an updated Plan published earlier this year welcomed the “considerable progress” that has now been made. Stakeholders now have a greater opportunity to participate in the agency’s procedures, it said, but added that improvements to PHARMAC’s consumer engagement processes remain a priority area.

Other priorities set out in the updated Plan include exploring the possibility of widening PHARMAC’s role in the medicines system, particularly in the areas of vaccines and hospital-use drugs, and the need to continue moving towards a New Zealand Medicines Formulary through the launch of a Universal List of Medicines and the development of clinical reference information on drugs.