A five-year extension to drug patents could cost taxpayers an extra $1 billion says Labour.
Talks on the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership deal are in their final stages and Prime Minister John Key has already said the deal would likely see patent protection for some drugs extended beyond the current period – effectively about five years from introduction to the market – pushing up the cost.
The Government has downplayed the extent to which an extension to patents would affect New Zealanders.
Key has said patients would not pay more than the current $5 fee for subsidised prescriptions. Any extra cost to the medicines bill as a result of the free trade deal would be absorbed by the Government.
But Labour health spokeswoman Annette King said Key was playing with words.
Figures from the national drug-purchasing agency Pharmac showed it spent $800m on medicines in 2014 that would have cost $2.2b without the deals it was able to negotiate when medicines came off patent King said.
Pharmac reported permanent savings of $40m to $50m a year through those deals.
‘The effect of lengthening patents for five years on medicines from TPP countries, which produce half of the world’s pharmaceuticals, would be to halve the flow of medicines coming off patent for those five years’ said King.
Cumulatively that could equate to $1b in lost savings over 10 years.
Pharmac the agency responsible for deciding which medicines get subsidised plans to discuss the Sativex spray with its primary clinical advisory committee according to a letter from Pharmac released on Friday.
Pharmac said Sativex contained cannabidiol with tetrahydrocannabinol or THC – the main psychoactive component of cannabis.
The agency said consideration from the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee was the first step in assessing the funding of a new medicine.
According to Medsafe Sativex was already approved for use in New Zealand as ‘an add-on treatment’ for some patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.
Specifically it could be given to people who hadn’t responded adequately to other anti-spasticity medication and who showed improvement in spasticity-related symptoms during an initial trial of therapy.
Any other use of Sativex was currently banned.