The public oppose England’s Cancer Drugs Fund but support the new pricing system for branded medicines.

This is according to a new study by the University of Bangor in North Wales, which asked over four thousand people across Britain if the NHS should pay more for cancer drugs compared to medicines for an equally serious condition - the majority (64%) said it shouldn’t.

The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) was set up in October 2010 and injects an extra £200 million a year into the NHS to pay for oncology medicines that are not recommended by NICE, or are being assessed by the watchdog. It is currently only available in England, and not in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.

But the study did show that medicines were favoured if they met the criteria by which the value of new medicines is to be assessed as part of the value-based pricing (VBP) scheme, due to be introduced from January 2014.

This scheme is meant to replace the 2009 PPRS pricing scheme and will allow the government to set prices for drugs as they reach the UK market, and will set new definitions of value for medicines. Many elements of this new system have been opposed by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which is now in negotiations with the government to have a watered down version of VBP.

Bangor’s study found that treatments were preferred if they were for severe diseases, if they reduced burden on carers, or if they were for diseases for which there were no other treatments – criteria that are set out in VBP. But innovative medicines were only preferred if they offered substantial health benefits, the study found.

One of the authors of the study, Professor Dyfrig Hughes, said the government need to justify continuing the Cancer Drugs Fund during these times of austerity to which the NHS is not immune.

He said: “The funding of high cost cancer treatments is clearly an emotive issue, and it is for politicians to determine the parameters by which the NHS pays for them, however, there are equally distressing conditions affecting patients who are equally deserving, but they have no access to ring-fenced budgets. Singling out cancer seems to be unfair, but is something which will hopefully be addressed in the value-based pricing system, which has public support.”

The Fund was always meant as a stop-gap before VBP, so the government is on strong ground to argue for VBP in its current form and drop the Fund from 2014. This may leave pharma unhappy as it wants to broadly keep the PPRS and have just some elements of VBP wedded to this.

But pharma has been less keen on the Fund – even though some firms such as Roche and Merck Serono have gained greatly from it, most would like to see a system that allow greater access for all medicines, rather than an interim measure for some.