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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Debating the future of patient access to novel health technologies: Horizon Scanning Forum

Health Industry Hub | March 25, 2024 |

Pharma News: Diverse stakeholders convened at the Horizon Scanning Forum led by Medicines Australia to tackle the pressing role of HTA reforms and horizon scanning in shaping the future of patient care.

A panel discussion chaired by Medicines Australia CEO, Liz de Somer, brought together Dr Anna Lavelle AM, Chair of Medicines Australia, Urs Voegeli, Managing Director of J&J Innovative Medicine, and Dr Paul Fennessey, a horizon scanning expert, with closing remarks from Penny Shakespeare, Deputy Secretary of the Health Resourcing Group, Department of Health and Ageing (DoHAC).

With the spotlight on delivering tangible benefits to patients, Dr Lavelle emphasised the urgency for transformational change, stressing the need for efficiency in healthcare delivery.

“If we don’t deliver for patients, we fail. That’s the bottom line,” she asserted, highlighting the collective demand for faster access to medicines across stakeholders. “We need to ensure that we don’t allow inertia to overcome change. We must look at our risk appetite and say, how risky is this?”

Mr Voegeli echoed the sentiment of urgency, citing the alarming statistic of 440 Australians diagnosed with cancer daily. He emphasised the need for “investment, processes and people” and advocated for a value framework tailored to address societal and patient needs, particularly for one-off, life-changing health technologies such as CAR T therapies.

“Today, we listened a lot. But from tomorrow, we need to act. It makes me optimistic to see diverse stakeholders engaging in a dialogue because if there is the willingness and the alignment to that goal, we can drive change,” he stated.

The dialogue also emphasised the importance of measurable progress to demonstrate improvements in patient care.

“We need to have an agreed set of KPIs that will be transparently reported upon. Then, patient advocacy groups and patients can see that things are progressing and improving. It will give them hope,” Dr Lavelle highlighted.

The discussion pivoted towards lessons from international experiences, particularly Canada and the UK, and the need for a cohesive approach to horizon scanning, tailored to Australia’s unique challenges.

“Post COVID there’s a shift in the agencies around the world that have done horizon scanning. There aren’t as much resources and capability in these agencies and everyone’s too busy to read 300 page documents. So, how do we focus the horizon scanning methodology and processes to better inform the decision makers, funders and stakeholders that deliver of healthcare?” he queried.

Mr Fennessey stressed the importance of aligning visions and avoiding duplication of efforts. He advocated for a national horizon scanning policy framework, akin to successful models like the National Health Genomics policy, to drive collaboration across multiple stakeholders and identify priorities.

The dialogue expanded to address the financial barriers hindering access to innovative therapies.

“Money seems to be the centre of all of this. We need to think more creatively about a funding model that enables a medicine that has moved through the TGA and HTA processes get to patients faster. That model might have different components and it’s unlikely that it will be fully funded by the government,” Dr Lavelle stated.

She referred to existing funding like the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), insurance schemes and hex loans as examples of alternative models of funding so that “money doesn’t end up being the only barrier that stands between patients getting access or not getting access” to novel health technologies.

“We want patients in Australia to access innovative medicines 60 days after TGA registration. We’re far away from that goal,” said Mr Voegeli. “Australia is still a wave one market for many companies. My colleagues and I face internal pressure on whether Australia still deserves that spot in a globally competitive market, when there are other markets with holistic healthcare strategies and faster access.”

In her closing remarks, Ms Shakespeare from the DoHAC, referred to the necessity of exploring diverse solutions rather than fixating on one.

“I get a sense that a lot of people are focused on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and how we modify that to make it fit-for-purpose. It can never be suitable for all the changes we need to deliver. It’s been running for 75 years and it’s designed to deliver medicines to consumers through community pharmacy,” she asserted.

The PBS funding model falls short when it comes to novel therapies demanding hospital-based care. She underscored the necessity of streamlining processes between Federal and state governments to improve access to cell and gene therapies and highly specialised therapies.

Ms de Somer concluded by referencing a quote from Dean Whiting, CEO of Pathology Technology Australia (PTA), advocating for “predictive, preventive and personalised” wellness framework focused on “keeping people out of the tertiary healthcare systems, and improving primary care for greater accessibility.”

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