With the advent of highly specialized therapies and new technologies, the world of medicine is facing one of its most turbulent periods to date. Despite their promise, these new therapy options more often than not carry a high price tag, resulting in access issues for patients. The issue is of worldwide concern, particularly in Latin America.

“Access to medicines is not just an American problem – it is a global issue,” began Eva Maria Ruiz de Castilla, Regional Director for Latin America at the Global Alliance for Patient Access (GAfPA), as she took to the stage for her ‘Lessons Learned’ talk at this year’s Astellas Patient Advocacy Summit.

One of the region’s biggest problems is biosimilars – near-identical versions of previously developed medicines. Although they have a reduced price compared to their originator counterpart and therefore the potential to improve patient access, according to Ruiz de Castilla, they represent a dangerous option for Latin American patients owing to poor education.

“We are trying to help Latin Americans understand biosimilars,” said Ruiz de Castilla. “Right now, very few people in the region know anything about them.”

The situation is in stark contrast to the U.S. where biosimilars are tightly regulated under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation (BPCI) Act of 2009, formerly passed by President Barack Obama in 2010 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care (PPAC) Act.

Latin America currently lacks any true guidance on biosimilar use as, says Ruiz de Castilla, “authorities in the region simply aren’t interested in creating guidelines for biosimilars and new technologies.”

To solve the problem, GAfPA is working with Latin American patient advocacy groups to do just that. The Alliance organizes events, provides educational materials and hosts training courses for patient advocacy groups to educate about the need for proper regulation in improving patient access. The intent is to provide patient advocates with a voice to communicate with policy makers in the region.

Aside from little regulation, other issues also stand in the way of patient access in Latin America. A lack of research and development efforts is a general area of concern for the region, said Ruiz de Castilla, along with a certain degree of corruption.

Closing her eye-opening talk, Ruiz de Castilla summarized her ongoing work in Latin America with a message that is applicable to patient advocacy groups as a whole: “We need to keep sharing best practices and sharing our knowledge to improve patient group credibility. Only then can we address treatment access – an issue that ultimately affects us all.”

Driving better treatment access in Latin America

Astellas Patient Advocacy is a function within Corporate Affairs at Astellas that focuses on creating, building and maintaining third-party relationships. We serve as a conduit between Astellas and external stakeholders to help improve patient outcomes, improve access issues and address patients’ unmet needs head on.