A new report by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has found that NHS patients are waiting longer for new cancer drugs because of delays in taking them through clinical trials and getting them approved for use.

The average time from when a cancer drug is patented to approval by NICE increased from 12.7 years from 2000-2008, to 14.1 years from 2009-16, the ICR found.

The report, 'From patent to patient – analysing access to innovative cancer drugs', examined all 97 cancer drugs licensed for 177 indications through the European Medicines Agency between 2000 and 2016, to assess how successful the system is being at delivering new treatments for patients.

The analysis found stark differences in the rate of development of new cancer drugs for different tumour types, with 15 drugs licensed for breast cancer from 2000-16, but none at all for brain cancer.

However, the rate of drug approvals has almost doubled over the time period – with 7.5 drug indications a year approved by the EMA from 2000-2008, compared with 14.6 a year from 2009-2016.

Some 64 drug authorisations between 2000 and 2016 – over a third of the total – were for blood cancers, and there were an impressive 15 for breast cancer. But in contrast, there were none for brain, oesophageal, bladder or womb cancer, and only one for liver cancer.

The ICR is now calling for the government, regulators and pharmaceutical companies to work together to accelerate the pace of development of innovative cancer treatments, by learning from international best practice to streamline regulation and by embracing smaller, smarter clinical trials.

“Our analysis gives us a vivid picture of the state of the nation in cancer drug discovery, development, licensing and appraisal. It’s great news that the incredible scientific advances we have seen over the last decade are fuelling an increase in the rate of drug discovery and development, but it’s clear that we need to do so much more to get innovative new treatments to patients,” said Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The ICR, London.

“The future of cancer drug development lies in smaller, smarter, streamlined clinical trials, so it is frustrating to see the journey to patients slowing down when it should be speeding up.

“We need to address the regulatory barriers in setting up and running clinical trials, and in getting drugs licensed at as early a stage as possible. We need academia to play a leadership role in encouraging drug companies to bring forward new models of trials as quickly as possible.”