Doctors and medicine-makers today called for an expected $280 million Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) windfall to be ploughed into bringing down the price of new cancer and HIV drugs.
Pharmaceutical industry bodies estimate the PBS will save about $280 million in 2005 as patents over several big-name drugs expire, opening the way for cheaper generic versions to be released on to the market.
Both the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and drug manufacturers' body Medicines Australia called on the government to reinvest the savings in the PBS and make new drugs available to more Australian patients.
"Any savings need to be passed on to newer drugs which are being developed, ... to make sure that medicines remain affordable and accessible," AMA president Bill Glasson told AAP.
"The money we put into our PBS in fact may be a huge saving to our medical system because it prevents people from needing to go to hospital, allows them to stay in the community, allows them to live longer with a better quality of life."
Asked whether the expected savings would be put back into the PBS, a spokesman for Health Minister Tony Abbott said only that the government was aware that "substantial savings" could come from generic drugs.
"We can't comment on future savings because this is a part of the budgetary process and thus remains confidential," he added.
Expensive new-generation cancer, HIV and other drugs were prime candidates for PBS listing, Medicines Australia chief executive Kieran Schneemann said.
"There are lots of new technology biotech medicines coming down the pipeline and they're particularly in the area of cancer medicines, HIV and all the areas that the population as it ages has a greater need for - hypertension, arthritis and so on," he told AAP.
"They're quite expensive, but they are more effective than the current-technology medicines."
Among the medicines due to come off patent this year are the cholesterol-lowering agent Zocor, the anti-depressant Zoloft and several popular blood pressure drugs.
"Zocor is probably the most-prescribed lipid-lowering agent out there and certainly those drugs are some of the most costly that the PBS have to fund so ... it will cause significant savings to the PBS and that's a good thing," Dr Glasson said.