UK cancer patients are missing out on the most appropriate treatments already available for them on the NHS, MPs have been told.

75% of specialists who treat cancers including lung, breast or bowel or leukaemia are struggling to overcome barriers  - including access to and cost of biomarker tests and NHS bureaucracy - which are preventing the use of innovative personalised medicines on the NHS, according to a new report from Merck Serono which has been provided to MPs. 

53% of cancer specialists acknowledge that they often or sometimes prescribe a treatment that is not necessarily the best choice for a patient because of a lack of access to biomarker tests - which are used to determine whether a personalised medicine may be effective - while 40% say they do so because of a delay in receiving results of such tests, according to the study.

In addition, 22% of cancer specialists admitted that patients are sometimes given a personalised medicine without conducting the appropriate biomarker test.

53% of specialists agreed - and 21% "strongly agreed" - that access to biomarker tests for personalised medicines differs between regions of the country, and 22% said that they were more likely to offer personalised medicine to a private patient as opposed to an NHS patient. And almost half said that test results take at least two weeks to come back, risking treatment delays and potentially impact on patient outcomes.

In September 2011, Merck Serono announced that it would fully fund KRAS biomarker testing for all UK patients diagnosed with bowel cancer - the nation's second-biggest cancer killer, with around 40,000 people diagnosed each year - and the firm reports that, in the six months to February 2012, it had funded 2,163 tests, saving the NHS over £250,000. 

This funding initiative enables individual treatment plans to be developed earlier, which may help patients receive the most appropriate treatment more quickly and ensure that they only receive treatment that may have the most beneficial effect, says Merck Serono.

The company's initiative has been welcomed by Dr Tim Iveson, consultant medical oncologist at Southampton General Hospital. "'It is simply not acceptable that some patients are not getting the treatment that they deserve. In bowel cancer we are making headway, with biomarker testing standardised and provided to every patient by the pharmaceutical industry," he said.

"We need more collaborations like this between the NHS, the pharmaceutical industry and government to ensure better use of stretched NHS resources and to make sure that individual patients are receiving the very best treatment possible that will lead to the best outcomes and, where possible, extend lives," added Dr Iveson, who is a member of Bowel Cancer UK's medical board.