NHS cancer patients in England will welcome news that the government is channelling more cash into the Cancer Drugs Fund to expand access to potentially life-extending medicines.
An extra £80 million a year is being added to the pot, bringing the yearly total to £280 million, to give thousands more cancer patients the chance of treatment with vital therapies regardless of their cost.
The CDF, created to provide a mechanism for patients to access those medicines considered most appropriate by their clinicians, side-stepping usual cost-effectiveness channels, is managed by NHS England.
But in proposed changes to the system, expert clinicians will evaluate the listed drugs “to ensure patients are offered the most effective drugs for their condition and new drugs can be added to the list, whilst drugs which are the least clinically effective will not be routinely available to new patients”, the DH said.
NHS England will also negotiate with the pharma on cost "to ensure best value for the NHS", and is working with NICE, researchers and patient charities to examine the wider process by which the way the NHS makes commissioning decisions on new cancer drugs.
According to Chris Askew, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, the changes “should improve the way that the Fund operates and make better use of the money available”.
But “this is not a long-term solution to the problem of access to drugs that currently exists in the UK,” he stressed, lamenting the “several highly effective breast cancer drugs, such as Kadcyla, rejected for routine use on the NHS due to their high cost”.
The charity therefore welcomes extra pressure on the pharmaceutical industry “to review the way in which they choose to price their products as we believe this is key to solving the problem”, he said.
Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, agrees that, while welcome, the cash injection is a "short-term solution".
"Ultimately the NICE value assessment process needs to be reformed urgently so that more innovative cancer medicines can routinely be made available for NHS patients," he said, noting that "this includes the development of sustainable aligned solutions involving NICE, NHS England and the industry working together".
Currently the CDF is only set to run until March 2016 and there is concern over what will happen after this point. The Department of Health has only said that it will “consider carefully with NHS England the best course of action for the fund in the future”.
Meantime, it was also announced that two new drugs have been added to the list: Astellas’ Xtandi (enzalutamide) for prostate cancer and Celgene’s Revlimid (lenalidomide) for a new group of patients with the rare blood condition myelodysplastic syndrome.