More than 46,500 cancer patients are set to benefit from the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) over the policy’s lifetime, with over 16,500 benefitting during the current financial year alone, says the Rarer Cancers Foundation (RCF).

The charity was commenting on NHS England figures which show that 4,128 patients gained access to treatments through the Fund during April-June this year. In April, NHS England took over operational management of the CDF, creating a single national Fund list and a single system for deciding which drugs are available, and for which conditions.

Colorectal cancer patients were the biggest beneficiaries of the Fund during the period, with 1,179 courses of treatment. Next were patients with prostate cancer, with 926 courses, and then blood cancer patients, with 723, says the RCF.

The most commonly-approved drugs were: - Genentech/Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab), for colorectal, breast and ovarian cancer; - Johnson & Johnson's Zytiga (abiraterone) for prostate cancer; - and bendamustine (Napp Pharmaceuticals' Levact, Teva's trend) for a range of blood cancers.

Requests for individual funding were rejected on 92 occasions. For those applications not referred elsewhere, this represents an approval rate of 52%, says the RCF.

NHS England has not published information on the Fund's expenditures, but the charity estimates that its first-quarter 2013-14 spending was just over £47 million, and that the total for the year will be just under £190 million, resulting in a small underspend.

As new drugs have been introduced to the CDF, other drugs have been funded by other routes, meaning that the Fund has gone further, it says. Examples include Bristol-Myers Squibb's Yervoy (ipilimumab) and Roche's Zalboraf (vemurafenib) two skin cancer treatments now recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), while Roche's MabThera (rituximab) for rare blood cancers is now funded through routine commissioning.

RCF chief executive Andrew Wilson said the Fund is continuing to deliver for patients with all types of cancer and continues to come in under budget.

Two things now need to happen, he said. "First, NHS England needs to do all it can to get the best value from the Cancer Drugs Fund, ensuring that the money goes as far as possible. Second, the government needs to set out how patients will continue to gain access to these treatments beyond 2013-14. We cannot afford access to cancer treatments to go backwards."