MSD's Michael Azrak: Review must be 'ambitious and transformative'

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MSD's Michael Azrak is hoping Greg Hunt's reappointment as health minister creates a strong platform for "meaningful and transformative" change.

Mr Azrak, who was appointed to the Medicines Australia board in February, returned to Australia last year to lead MSD having been overseas in a number of senior roles with the company for most of this decade.

"It has been a busy and productive year. In terms of highlights, definitely the lung and bladder cancer listings for KEYTRUDA, and continuing to grow our clinical trial investment in Australia. It now has a contract value of just under $400 million. We have over 150 trials at more than 500 sites and as a country we are number two in the MSD world, behind the US, in terms of volume.

"I am also proud of some internal achievements. This includes our first ever Reconciliation Action Plan, which was the culmination of a lot of work, and will also build on our already strong commitment to diversity and inclusion."

On the policy environment, Mr Azrak said, "There was a quiet period in the months leading up to the election but with Greg Hunt's reappointment it is time to start moving forward. We need to future scan and think about what happens after our strategic agreement with the federal government, which expires in 2022. Where does policy need to be in 2025? What needs to change?

"The recent election highlighted the significant political understanding of the PBS but that really needs to translate into something more meaningful for patients.

"There is no doubt a review of the National Medicines Policy is a fantastic opportunity to deliver meaningful and transformative change. This kind of review does not come around very often. It will be expensive and a lot of work but it is very clear that what we have at the moment is not delivering for Australian patients."

"We simply must do better," added Mr Azrak, pointing to the fact it takes over 400 days on average for a new medicine to gain reimbursement in Australia. "Access can and must be improved."

"A review is also how we as one stakeholder can work with others and the government to develop a 'united view' on the system we need now and into the future."

He said patients and clinicians must be at the centre of a review and that industry "definitely has a role" in ensuring an "ambitious and transformative" terms of reference.

"I do not think patient groups can be muted on a review," said Mr Azrak.

The MSD boss also said the sector as a whole has also "dropped the ball" on supply chain reform. "As an industry that prides itself on innovation, this has to be very much on our agenda given where we are at in terms of the supply chain payment reform."

Mr Azrak said, "We have an animal health business. It is a shocking indictment but it is easier to track animal health medicine than PBS-listed medicine. There is is a lot of new data that will drive efficiencies but we need serialisation. Amazon has product serialisation and there is medicine serialisation in the US and Europe - we need it in Australia and should be working towards it."

He added that, while the industry welcomed health minister Greg Hunt's pre-election commitment on retaining special pricing arrangements, there is an "urgent need" for decision-makers to understand the negative implications of any move to scrap or undermine the deals that ensure 'cost-effective' prices remain confidential. "We are a very small component of the global system and there is very high sensitivity on these issues. That should not be underestimated."