Viagra May Be Subsidised in Australia
By Nic Rowan

MELBOURNE (Reuters Health) - Viagra use may be subsidised by Australian taxpayers if a recommendation by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) is approved by Cabinet. The projected cost of the subsidization could cost taxpayers up to AUS$100 million a year, according to some estimates.

Drug company Pfizer has made three successive submissions to the PBAC to have Viagra, the high-profile drug for erectile dysfunction, placed on the pharmaceutical benefits list, which allows patients to buy drugs at vastly reduced prices. The first and second submissions were rejected ``on the basis of significant concern about leakage outside the guidelines,'' according to PBAC Chair, Professor Lloyd Sansom.

Sansom told Reuters Health Thursday that he rejected media suggestions that the PBAC had now become ``industry friendly.'' He asserted that what had happened was that in their latest submission Pfizer had addressed all the shortfalls of previous submissions.

Sansom said that this time Pfizer had requested approval for use of Viagra in a limited range of conditions, mostly related to diabetes, Parkinson's disease (news - web sites) and spinal cord injury.

He said that the committee had compared Viagra with Caverject, a drug for erectile dysfunction currently on the pharmaceutical benefits list, and that Viagra was superior.

``If we have a product which is safer, more effective and the same price, how can it reasonably be rejected?'' he told Reuters Health.

Sansom expressed concern about the effect of Viagra approval on the already stretched pharmaceutical benefits budget, explaining that while Caverject use currently accounts for AUS$4 million expenditure, many more men will prefer to take Viagra tablets than currently use Caverject, which must be injected into the penis.

Increased numbers of users, he predicted, will blow out the cost of Viagra in comparison to Caverject. Sansom said that Pfizer had predicated a cost in the first year of around AUS$25 million.

Sansom, however, cited similar conditions in the United Kingdom, and said that if the UK experience is extrapolated to Australia, the cost in the first year is likely to be AUS$35-40 million and this trend may jump to AUS$100 million in a few years.

All PBAC recommendations that have an anticipated cost of AUS$5 million or more must be approved by Cabinet, and Sansom told Reuters Health that this may be a time at which the government considers two things: ``that the cost is going to be a lot more than Caverject, and whether any erectile dysfunction product should be listed at all.''

Sansom added, ``Viagra was difficult for the Committee to reject on the basis of criteria, but it will cost a lot, lot more.''