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Cancer drugs to be re-evaluated

Charities fear patients will lose out

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Some 42 cancer drugs are to be re-evaluated, NHS England has announced.

The list of medications for re-assessment includes drugs for breast and colorectal cancers, as well as several other cancers and a number of new drugs. The Cancer Drug Fund (CDF) panel will “assess the clinical benefit delivered in treating a patient with a drug, in relation to the cost of the drug.”

The CDF was overspent by £30 million last year. And whilst its budget is being expanded to £280 million, further changes are expected and NHS England has introduced financial restrictions on the drugs paid for through the fund.

Cancer charities fear the re-assessment will result in several life-prolonging drugs becoming unavailable to NHS patients. 

Included on the list is the breast cancer therapy Kadcyla, which extends life by an average of six months and costs £90,000 per course. Also under threat to new patients is the prostate cancer drug cabazitaxel.

Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer UK said: “Whilst we welcome the clarity provided by these proposed reforms, the huge deficit that has brought the Cancer Drugs Fund to the brink is the result of a failed drug appraisal system that continues to deny thousands of cancer patients access to effective drugs that they clearly need.

"A long-term solution is urgently needed that delivers an overhaul of the way new cancer drugs are appraised. To work there must be greater collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry to develop measures that combat the over-pricing of new cancer drugs and make them affordable for the NHS. We will be holding NHS England, NICE and the government to their commitment to work closely with patients and clinicians to make this happen.”

Caitlin Palframan, Senior Policy Manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “It’s encouraging to see that changes are being made to improve the way that the Cancer Drugs Fund operates and make better use of the money available. However, we’re deeply concerned that several very effective breast cancer drugs appear on the list of drugs at risk of delisting due to their high price. The Fund is the only way women in England can routinely access these drugs that can offer them months, or even years, of additional good quality life.

“The Cancer Drugs Fund was only ever intended to be a temporary solution, acting as a safety net for patients, but we are now facing a situation in which it may fail to perform that function for some people and more and more life-extending drugs could be snatched away from those that need them.

“That’s why we are calling upon all political parties to commit within their manifestos to finding a long-term, UK wide solution to the ongoing problem of access to life-extending drugs by the end of the next parliament, working with the pharmaceutical industry and key stakeholders to develop and embed a new system of drug pricing and evaluation.”

She added: "It’s also very important to reassure patients currently receiving treatment via the Cancer Drugs Fund that they needn’t be alarmed by this news. Whilst the plan is to begin delisting some drugs, nobody currently receiving a drug via the Fund will have their treatment discontinued.”

The review is not entirely unexpected given the announcement, by National Medical Director Bruce Keogh, last month, that the Cancer Drug Fund panel proposed to review the drugs on the CDF list “to ensure that only those demonstrating the greatest degree of clinical benefit, at appropriate costs, remain on the list.”

The drugs under scrutiny will be re-evaluated at the Cancer Drug Fund panel’s next meeting on December 15 and 16.

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