Kiwis are waiting for more than 35 cost-effective medicines recommended by a Pharmac advisory committee, a lobby group for the pharmaceutical industry says.

Medicines New Zealand say new investment has been ploughed into healthcare but not life-saving medicines.

Dr Graeme Jarvis, general manager for Medicines NZ, the body that represents pharmaceutical companies based in New Zealand or with a presence here, said investment in new medicines had saved Australia almost $7 billion in hospital costs.

"However, the year on year growth in New Zealand healthcare investment is up to 29 times higher than for medicines. Investment in medicines is a way of saving money elsewhere in the health system."


Dr Jarvis said more than 35 medicines recommended by Pharmac's technical advisory committee had yet to be funded.

A study by Australia's medicines industry association found that of 20 developed countries, Australia ranks 18th for state-funded access to new medicines. New Zealand is 20th. OECD data puts New Zealand's spending on drugs well below the average of developed countries.

The issue of access to new medicines, particularly biologics, has been the subject of fierce political debate this week, after Pharmac decided not to fund the melanoma drug Keytruda.

Labour leader Andrew Little and health spokeswoman Annette King have said a Labour Government would direct Pharmac to fund the drug if they won the election in 2017.

Prime Minister John Key has hinted that more funding could be on the way, to help Pharmac fund not just Keytruda but drugs for other illnesses the agency would rate a higher priority.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman said the comments from Medicines NZ were understandable, given they represent the pharmaceutical business industry.

"At any one time Pharmac has a range of medicines, which after being assessed, they could fund.

"Pharmac regularly re-assesses which medicines can be funded, but this is a complex process involving a number of factors, such as branded name medicines changing to generics and the fiscal deals which Pharmac can negotiate on."


In May, it was confirmed that Pharmac's combined pharmaceutical budget (CPB) would be increased by $5 million to $800 million. In the previous year's Budget it was kept at $795 million.

The $5 million increase was less than the $11 million Pharmac - the Government's bulk-drug buying agency -- had asked for.

As well as the pharmaceutical budget, Pharmac says it uses $40 to $60 million of new funding each year, which is freed up through price concessions.

Dr Coleman said Pharmac's current budget was a record amount.

"A recent report by Pharmac acknowledged that while there are differences in the number of cancer medicines funded in New Zealand and Australia, overall New Zealanders are not missing significant opportunities for clinically meaningful health gains."

Pharmac's combined pharmaceutical budget for the year ended June 30

• 2016 - $800 million

• 2015 - $795 million

• 2014 - $795 million

• 2013 - $783.6 million

• 2012 - $777.4 million

• 2011 - $706.1 million

• 2010 - $693.8 million

• 2009 - $653 million

• 2008 - $635.4 million