If you live in Australia and have read anything by Fairfax Media over the last couple of days, you may have come across one of their most popular articles about a company bringing unapproved lifesaving drugs to Australia—that's us! The article did a great job at highlighting how urgently patients need to access the latest, innovative drugs—literally a case of life and death. However, for readers who aren't as familiar with Australia's drug approval system and access to medicines, it may have raised some questions. We wrote this blog to help clarify any confusion.
1. Australia's personal importation scheme is a well-regulated system that has been around since the 1980s.
This scheme that TheSocialMedwork uses to import medicines to Australian patients is well regulated by the TGA, and allows patients to import a drug from overseas, provided that:
- it's been approved somewhere else
- it's not prohibited (i.e. an illegal substance)
- the patient has a doctor's prescription
- the amount being imported is for no longer than 3 months
The TGA, as a general rule, does warn Aussies about purchasing medicines from overseas—and for a good reason! Their concern is that patients could pay an extortionate amount of money for a drug that makes wild claims, but in reality, is ineffective—or even worse, contains toxic chemicals.
The drugs offered on our online platform are the original approved product, manufactured by the original (and usually well known) companies—including Roche, Pfizer, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, to name a few. We only list drugs that have been approved in countries that have well-respected regulatory authorities (such as the US or in Europe), and have had good shown results so far. As a registered independent intermediary with the Dutch Ministry of Health, you can rest assured that we're extremely well regulated and that all our import/export processes are 100% legal. (We spent the last 18 months researching how to legally and safely import medicines to various countries all around the world—not an easy feat!)
In fact, Breast Cancer Network Australia has said that we're the first service of our kind that they feel confident recommending to patients.
2. We're here for doctors too!
In the article, Dr Tony Bartone raised concerns that our service might place a huge responsibility on prescribing physicians.
Practising as a doctor is indeed a huge responsibility—in fact, it'd be rather awkward if doctors didn't take their responsibility very seriously. Every doctor is free to prescribe any treatment that they deem to be suitable and potentially effective for their patient—but not obliged. Every day, there are doctors who exercise their professional judgement that choose not to prescribe certain medications. Equally, there are doctors who have encouraged patients to head overseas so that they can access the latest drug that has yet to be approved in Australia, but holds promising results. The complexities of a doctor's practice do not negate the need for our service.
Our intention has never been—nor will it ever be—to replace the doctor-patient relationship. When patients inquire about a drug, we always direct them to discuss it with their doctors first.
Our platform was designed to be a resource for doctors too! We know the difficulty they face in trying to stay on top of the latest drugs out there; we provide them with a centralised platform where they can find all this information in the one place, along with the latest clinical results. Doctors have contacted us about medications for specific diseases and we wholeheartedly welcome this.
3. The prices of the drugs we offer aren't set by us—they're determined by the drug manufacturer
We're constantly trying to negotiate the best possible prices for patients; we're even inviting pharmaceutical companies to offer different pricing models, so that the medicines can become more and more affordable. Our hope that is that as more people place orders through with us, we'll have the capacity to negotiate even better prices through "group orders". Once each manufacturer has set a specific price for each drug, we then add a 10% service fee, amounting to the final price that you see listed online, necessary for us to keep our service running.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that until a drug gets put on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and is subsidised heavily by the Australian government, this is the world market cost of medicines. In an ideal world, we'd have a globally harmonised approval system, and a service like ours wouldn't need to exist.
We hope that this has clarified things a little. If you have any more questions or comments, do get in touch with us, or feel free to visit our FAQs page here.
Let's fight these diseases together!