Cutting medicine prices and promoting cheap generics in the way European governments are now doing could jeopardize the long-term supply of new heart drugs, a top cardiologist said on Saturday.
Roberto Ferrari, president of the European Society of Cardiology, said heart drugs were particularly at risk because they required large and lengthy clinical trials, making them very expensive to develop.
If the drug cannot be used for a long enough time to compensate for that expense, drug companies may prefer to invest, for instance, in oncology, he told reporters at the society's annual meeting in Stockholm.
Drug prices have become a target for European governments as they embark on austerity measures to deal with budget problems, with many countries also encouraging greater use of older generic drugs within their state health systems.
Germany's government approved a draft bill in June which aims to eventually save some 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) a year on the cost of patented drugs by breaking drugmakers' pricing power.
Elsewhere, Greece has slashed drug prices, Spain has also announced price cuts and other countries, including Italy, are pushing hard for much greater use of cheap generics rather than more costly branded medicines.
Ferrari said the measures were not having a significant impact on patient treatment today but doctors were worried about the flow of new products in future.
VICTIM OF ITS SUCCESS
To some extent, cardiology is a victim of its own success, since treatment advances mean the field has contributed a hefty seven years to the 10 years increase in average life spans in recent years, as against just 2.4 months for oncology, he said.
To register a new drug in cardiology nowadays is more difficult because of our success. You need either more patients in clinical trials or a longer follow-up of the trial in order to be able to see the difference between the placebo and the treatment, Ferrari said.
His comments echo a report last month by the European School of Management and Technology Competition Analysis, commissioned by drugmaker Novartis, which found a direct link between strict price regulation and low innovation.
That study concluded new medicines likely to be hit hardest under tough pricing regulation included treatments for heart disease, as well as antibiotics and drugs for immune system disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
It's important that people realize that health is expensive and to develop new drugs and devices and treatments ... is expensive, said Fausto Pinto, head of the cardiology congress's scientific program.
For the time being, though, the flow of new heart medicines is continuing -- reflecting investment decisions made by drug companies in the past, since it takes more than a decade to get a new drug to market.
The August 28 to September 1 meeting in Stockholm, attended by some 27,000 participants, will see clinical trial data on a number of new cardiology medicines.
Much of the attention is expected to focus on two new anti-clotting pills -- Xarelto and apixaban -- being developed by Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, and Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer. Both are vying for market share against Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa, which is nearer the market as a stroke preventer.
Medical experts will also get a first look at an experimental blood thinner called elinogrel from Novartis and Portola, that could be a competitor for Sanofi-Aventis' Plavix, and newer drugs like Eli Lilly's Effient and AstraZeneca's Brilinta.