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Drug Company Scaremongering, Says Pharmac

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

People can be confident a generic version of a widely-used gastrointestinal drug will work just as well as the medicine it is replacing, says PHARMAC.

PHARMAC's Medical Director Dr Peter Moodie labels claims by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca as scaremongering, motivated by the company losing the market for its product. AstraZeneca is putting out incorrect information, including overstating the number of patients taking its product, and citing an unrelated medicine change from several years ago.

The patent for Losec (omeprazole), one of the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) drugs used to treat indigestion, reflux and stomach ulcers, has expired and PHARMAC has run a competitive process to continue funding omeprazole. Following that process, PHARMAC has awarded sole supply to the Dr Reddy's Omeprazole brand from 1 May next year.

Omeprazole is taken by about 370,000 New Zealanders.

"We ask companies to compete and AstraZeneca failed to match the offer of its competitors," says Dr Moodie. "Quite simply they have priced themselves out of the market."

"Medsafe, the regulatory body for medicines in New Zealand, has thoroughly assessed and reviewed all the different brands of omeprazole, including Dr Reddy's Omeprazole, and consider them to be bioequivalent. This means they work the same way, contain the same amount of active ingredient, and are absorbed into the body the same way. So people can be confident that the new brand will work for them just as well as Losec."

Moving to a generic once the patent had expired is standard practice, not just in New Zealand but around the world, says Dr Moodie.

"Paying less for the same medicine - in this case a $29 million saving over five years - means we have more funds available for other new medicines. This is a classic example of where commercial interest does not equate with the public interest."

It is also unfortunate that AstraZeneca is making an issue that the new drug is made in India.

"No matter where a drug comes from, it needs to demonstrate it's of good quality, effective and safe. From both PHARMAC's, and Medsafe's, point of view, Dr Reddy's Omeprazole meets these standards, so the country of origin isn't an issue."

"Many funded drugs are already sourced from India, and are trusted by New Zealanders. AstraZeneca itself sources pharmaceutical materials from India, as do other large pharmaceutical companies."

Dr Moodie points out that AstraZeneca will continue to promote Losec, and is attempting to preserve a market for its product.

"You don't have to look very hard to see their self-interest," he says.

"If they want to keep selling their product, that's fine. But it's not acceptable for them to shake people's confidence in a medicine they can have confidence in."

PHARMAC carefully considers what medicines it chooses to tender for sole supply, including taking expert clinical advice and consulting with interested parties on what products are tendered.

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