A million Kiwis to be impacted by major pharmaceutical company leaving New Zealand

UPDATE: This story has been updated due to incorrect information provided by Pharmac, for which it apologises. The earlier version said Apotex was pulling out this year when it is in fact next year.

More than a million Kiwis may need to change to different medications before the end of next year due to a major pharmaceutical company pulling out of the New Zealand market, leaving Pharmac looking for new suppliers for dozens of medications.

You may know the name Apotex, the founder of the Canadian pharmaceutical giant was murdered in 2017.

Billionaire Barry Sherman and his wife were discovered in the basement of their Canada home. Their deaths remain a mystery.

What you may not know is that hundreds of thousands of Kiwis use their medications.

From antibiotics to B vitamins and treatments for blood pressure, arthritis, cholesterol, and depression.

Patient Voice Aotearoa Chair, Malcolm Mulholland, is concerned it could result in supply problems.

"This move could potentially affect a million New Zealanders or more," Mulholland said.

Apotex's diabetes medication, Metformin, alone is used by 200,00 Kiwis.

Mulholland is also worried about the raft of drug switches it will cause.

"You've got those that suffer from hypotension, epilepsy, bipolar, I mean basically you name it, this company supplies one of those drugs."

Pharmac told Newshub Apotex is downsizing its business, saying it's moving out of New Zealand and will concentrate on the North American market.

Pharmac was advised of Apotex's decision in June 2019 and needs to find replacement suppliers for 41 medications by the end of 2021.

Pharmac Director of Operations, Lisa Williams said that while Apotex pulling out of the New Zealand market may be hard work she is confident Pharmac can handle it. 

"It's perhaps a little bit of extra workload for us to manage that but we're confident that we're going to find alternative products to replace the Apotex brands."

All but one of the 41 medications Apotex supplies are supplied by other companies, the only one being discontinued is the heart medication Cilazapril with hydrochlorothiazide. It's currently used by 55,000 New Zealanders but Pharmac says there are alternative funded medicines.

Pharmac is inviting suppliers to register their interest by Tuesday, July 7.  But the new drugs could end up costing Pharmac more.

"I think a large player like this withdrawing from the market is always going to be a concern.  We operate on a competitive marketplace, that's how Pharmac gets good prices for its medication and that affects all New Zealanders," says Dr Bryan Betty, College of GPs Medical Director and former Pharmac deputy medical director.

Pharmac  says no shortages are expected but it will mean brand changes.

"In order to maintain continuity of supply we will need to find different brands so patients will need to change the brand that they're using," says Lisa Williams.

Previous drug switches have hit the headlines, the Chief Coroner is investigating seven deaths after patients were changed to the generic epilepsy medication, Logem.

However GPs say patients shouldn't worry.

"The new drugs coming on to market are equivalent to the old drugs, they are Medsafe approved so no I don't think patients should be concerned if there is a change in brand in their medication," says Dr Betty.

Anyone with concerns should talk to their prescriber.