Greg Hunt: Will work to 'ensure' patient access to gene and cell therapies

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Health minister Greg Hunt says the Morrison Government will work with the sector to "ensure" Australian patients can access the latest gene and cell therapies.

BiotechDispatch submitted a number of questions to Mr Hunt's office regarding Australia's ability to attract gene and cell companies, including the potential to offer 'pull-factor' incentives.

The issue is rapidly emerging as potentially curative gene and cell therapies emerge from the pipelines of biotherapeutic companies. Most of these are small to mid-size companies based in the US and Europe with few disclosing any current plans to commercialise their therapies in Australia.

US-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, the company commercialising the first RNA interference therapeutic, ONPATTRO (patisiran), has secured approvals in the US, Europe and Japan.

ONPATTRO is for the treatment of hereditary transthyretin-mediated (hATTR) amyloidosis with polyneuropathy. 

However, the company has told BiotechDispatch it has no current timeline for bringing ONPATTRO to Australia.

It is understood Mr Hunt would not necessarily rebuff any industry approach on potential strategic incentives to attract companies like Alnylam Pharmaceuticals but that there has been minimal engagement on gene and cell therapies, apart from that related to specific products held by large global multinationals.

"The Morrison Government is deeply committed to providing patient access to new medicines and innovative new treatments such as immunotherapy, cell and gene therapies through clinical trials and the public health system," said a spokesperson for Mr Hunt. 

"The Morrison Governments $20 billion MRFF is as a dedicated vehicle for priority-driven investment in health and medical research and commercialisation. Specific initiatives in the MRFF are supporting innovative research ideas, increasing the number of Australian clinical trials, enhancing international collaboration, supporting commercialisation and fostering collaboration between researchers and industry.

"The Morrison Government is committed to build upon its strong record to date in the PBS and MRFF working with the sector to ensure patients can access these new treatments in Australia," added the spokesperson.