The government has finally published its long-awaited response to the Accelerated Access Review, with plans for a new Accelerated Access Pathway that will open a new channel providing patients with faster access to the most innovative medicines and technologies.

From April next year the​ new Pathway will allow for selected medical technologies and treatments to begin a process which could make them available up to four years earlier than the norm.

The aim is to slash the time it takes for medicines with the greatest potential impact to complete the necessary evaluation and financial approvals for NHS purchasing.

Sir Andrew Witty, former chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, will lead a group called the Accelerated Access Collaborative, which will govern which products are given access to the Pathway, with advice from patients, clinicians and industry.

In return, life sciences firms will be expected to deliver additional value for the taxpayer, with a new Strategic Commercial Unit being created within NHS England to help negotiate cost effective deals with innovators, the Department of Health stressed.

“I want the UK to be the best place in the world to develop new drugs and medical technology – but despite the innovation happening here, our uptake in the NHS can be too slow,” said Health Minister, Lord O’Shaughnessy.

The new measures “will not only benefit patients by improving how quickly and easily we can get innovative products from the lab to the bedside, but will guarantee future collaboration between the life sciences sector and the NHS post-Brexit – benefiting the British economy and creating jobs.”

“It is hugely frustrating for researchers, doctors and most of all for patients when innovative new cancer treatments are not made available on the NHS until years after the rest of the world, especially when they have only been made possible by UK science,” noted Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

“We now have the opportunity to speed up licensing and appraisal for the most promising treatments. Looking ahead, to do even better we also need changes to the way appraisals are made to favour the most innovative drugs ahead of the ‘me toos’, and crucially we need action to bring down the sky-high prices of many new medicines.”​​​

Also on the table is an £86 million funding package to help innovators of all sizes to access the NHS market, and help ensure that these products get to the patients that need them.

This includes: more support for small and medium-sized enterprises to help them build a stronger evidence base for their products, with £35 million over four years to help SMEs with digital products, and a £6 million scheme to support medtech, diagnostics and pharmaceutical products; £6 million to support clinicians to use new treatments and technologies in everyday practice; and £39 million to encourage grassroots adoption and uptake of new medical technologies, driven by 15 Academic Health Science Networks which are responsible for identifying high potential products, supporting their adoption regionally and sharing lessons across the wider NHS.

Richard Torbett, executive director of Commercial Policy at the ABPI, said the government’s commitment to speeding up access to the most innovative medicines and treatments “is very much welcome”.

“This should benefit thousands of NHS patients as well as delivering significant long-term savings for the health service if appropriate investment in these transformative therapies is made available.

“We are confident that the promise of making ground-breaking, cost-effective healthcare available for everyone, as quickly as possible, can be delivered through partnership with our industry, Government and the NHS."

Simon Bedson, Vertex Pharmaceuticals senior vice president and general manager, International Commercial Operations, also welcomed the announcement, which he said “promises faster access to medicines with the greatest potential to change lives.”

“We want to see this put into action for people in the UK who have cystic fibrosis,” he added, noting that “in a country that has one of the highest incidences of cystic fibrosis in the world, we find ourselves in a system where people have been waiting to have access to Orkambi for over two years.

“Through this new approach we want to work with the Government so we continue to recognise the need and value of investing in innovation.”

It has taken the government over a year to respond to the Review, which was published in October 2016.

The report was commissioned by the government in 2014, in the hope of making the UK "the fastest place in the world for the design, development and widespread adoption of medical innovations and stimulate new investment, jobs and economic growth to support the NHS".