Patients are missing out on new medicines with the number of new drugs added to Australia's taxpayer-subsidised scheme slumping to a 20-year low, drug makers claim.
The pharmaceutical industry's lobby group Medicines Australia, which commissioned the report on price reform to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, said the Federal Government's failure to add new treatments comes despite drug makers agreeing several years ago to price cuts on older medications.
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek hit back, with a spokesman saying the report was flawed and contained errors, inaccuracies and a selective use of statistics.
Frustrated drug companies have withdrawn some drugs from Australia after failing to have them listed, including Zelboraf, which one clinical study found can almost double life expectancy for advanced melanoma patients.
The report, prepared by Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, found PBS price reforms that slashed the price of patent drugs would deliver $18 billion in savings for taxpayers in the eight years to 2017-18.
These savings were meant to fund the listing of new treatments on the PBS but the authors found just 15 drugs were added during 2011-12, compared with a record 40 just two years earlier and an average of 26 a year since 1991.
"That's very alarming because it means many patients who need new treatments aren't getting access to them," Medicines Australia chief Brendan Shaw said.
"This decline is not due to any fall in the number of new therapies being proposed by companies.
"It has been due to things such as higher rejection rates at the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and delays in the listing process for new medicines."
Ms Plibersek's spokesman said the report focused just on new drugs being listed for the first time and ignored approvals for existing PBS medicines to be used to treat different disease types. In 2011-12, the Government made 100 new or amended listings at a cost of $546 million.
"This Government has a strong record of new listings, adding over 780 new listings and indications for existing medicines since 2007 at a cost of over $5 billion - something Medicines Australia has failed to acknowledge," the spokesman said.