Drug monitoring ends after 36 years

A lack of funding means a 36-year-old University of Otago drug-monitoring programme will shut at the end of this month, with the loss of five jobs.

Otago University's intensive medicine monitoring programme (IMMP) role was to identify adverse reactions to new medicines and investigate safety issues with existing ones.

Until halfway through last year, it was funded by the Ministry of Health through Medsafe.

Otago University New Zealand Pharmacovigilance Centre director Dr Michael Tatley said the closure came after a decision was made about five years ago to move from a continous funding model to a project-based model.

''They identified a project that finished in the middle of 2012 and since then there has not been any other projects that have been identified ... to keep the unit going,'' Dr Tatley said.

It was disappointing to see the loss of the programme, which had played an ''important role'' and looked at about 40 medicines over its history.

This monitoring had resulted in changes that benefited patients.

''All the observations that came out of it were fed to the Ministry of Health and, over time, there have been various changes or improvements which have been brought about.''

''What is lost out of this programme is that there is a level of finer detail that one can get, because the majority of the data came from general practice sources.''

Five staff, three of whom had contracts due to expire at the end of the year, would be out of work as a result of the closure.

If another project came up, the programme could be restarted as the system and software were still there.

Medsafe clinical risk management manager Chris James said the ministry was disappointed to see IMMP closing after it had received no recent proposals for projects.

''Although Medsafe was open to considering further projects for funding, no recent proposals have been received from the programme,'' Mr James said.

Funding for IMMP projects had in the past come from Medsafe, the university itself and pharmaceutical companies, he said.

The last project funded by Medsafe was smoking cessation drug varenicline, known as Champix.

''Funding for the IMMP was changed around five years ago to a project-based one, to strengthen the link between funding objectives and results.

''However, Medsafe funding to the pharmacovigilance centre in Otago, which in turn provides the IMMP, did not drop in that time.''