Cancer drugs still being assessed for the NHS ‘to be given to patients early’

    20 November 2015

    England’s Cancer Drugs Fund, which pays for drugs the NHS deems unaffordable, is to be overhauled. Under new plans patients could be given earlier access to innovative cancer drugs.

    Since being formed in 2011, the fund’s budget has increased from £200 million annually to £340 million. Over 72,000 cancer patients have been given access to drugs that are not routinely funded through the NHS.

    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) currently decides which drugs are affordable for widespread use in the NHS. This excludes many drugs deemed safe and effective by the Medicines and Healthcare Products’ Regulatory Agency.

    A newly released consultation document suggests that patients should be given access to such drugs during an assessment period. This will enable data to be gathered on the drugs’ effectiveness.

    Following the overhaul, Nice will have sole power to approve or reject the drugs for use in the NHS.

    Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, said: ‘Over the next five years we’re likely to see many new cancer drugs coming on to the worldwide market — some of which will be major therapeutic breakthroughs, and some of which will turn out to offer little extra patient benefit but at enormous cost.

    ‘The new Cancer Drugs Fund offers a route for sorting out the wheat from the chaff, so that patients in England get faster access to the genuinely most promising new treatments. For those drug companies willing to price their products affordably while sharing transparent information about “real world” patient benefit, the new [fund] will offer a new fast-track route to NHS funding.’

    ‘The proposals could speed up the drug evaluation system — which is good news for everyone — and would increase the number of drugs which would be available for consideration under end-of-life criteria.’