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Government accused of blocking new cancer drugs to save money

Cancer specialist and drug company boss say innovative drugs that could help cancer patients are being disallowed by Nice

The government has been accused of “systematically” delaying the introduction of new cancer drugs in order to save money.

A leading cancer specialist and the head of Britain’s biggest drugs company said innovative drugs were being held back as part of an ill-conceived attempt to cut costs.

Prof Jonathan Waxman, of Imperial College London, who founded the Prostate Cancer Charity and helped establish an all-party parliamentary group to improve cancer treatment, described the situation as a disaster.

He said a number of new cancer drugs had been blocked by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which assesses the cost-effectiveness of new treatments.

“In my view, Nice has over-regulated and proscribed drugs that offer real advances to people with cancer,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“In my particular area of specialisation, which is prostate cancer, we have had two new drugs become available over the last year and a half which offer real benefits for patients.

“I would argue that they have been disallowed – banned – by Nice on the basis of an assessment which is not a true financial costing of the worth of the drugs.”

He warned that drug companies might soon no longer find it worthwhile to seek approval for their products in Britain.

“We are going to have a situation in the UK where drugs are not available for our patients. It is a disaster. Someone just needs to sort this out.”

GlaxoSmithKline’s chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty, said delaying the approval of innovative new drugs was a false economy. He said: “Cancer in the UK is a good example where we’re seeing oncology drugs being systematically delayed from introduction and reimbursement.

“The issue here is, of course, if you don’t buy the new drug it is going to save you money in the drug bill. But the drug bill is only 8% to 10% of the total healthcare bill and what is being lost in this stampede for cost cuts is any kind of strategic thoughtfulness.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The government has increased spending on health, which includes new drugs, and thousands more patients are getting access to the most advanced treatments.

“The government has not changed any assessment processes relating to cancer drugs.

“Furthermore, drug companies need to look hard at the high costs they are asking of the health service for their latest treatments.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds