New Cancer Drugs Fund opens

The reinvented Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) has opened despite the fact that it is has not yet published conclusive guidance on which drugs will be available.

It was announced earlier this year that the CDF would lose the power to prescribe drugs not approved by NICE after long-running concerns about its finances, after it was forced to stop funding 25 treatments and a Public Accounts Committee report found that its spending was unsustainable

However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and a coalition of 15 cancer charities have warned that the new CDF is sticking to now-outdated NICE guidelines, which means that up to two-thirds of the medicines currently prescribed could no longer be available.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, director of specialised commissioning and deputy national medical director at NHS England, said: “The new CDF is open for business, with four new treatments to be made immediately available to patients.

“Today marks the culmination of extensive work to ensure the new CDF will benefit the cancer patients, taxpayers and industry. The new approach developed by NHS England and NICE is faster and less rigid than before, meaning patients will be able to access promising new and innovative treatments much earlier.”

NHS England said that four new drugs, used to treat lung cancer, bowel cancer and melanoma, will be available to patients in the interim until final NICE guidance is developed.

Two more treatments will also receive interim funding through the CDF.

However, two more drugs, lenalidomide and temsirolimus, have been given two months’ notice of removal from the CDF, although lenalidomide manufacturer Celgene said it will make the drug available for free on a case-by-case basis, and temsirolimus is no longer used routinely.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “The new CDF will do next-to-nothing to solve the wider problems that are preventing NHS patients from accessing the best cancer drugs.

“The CDF was set up because NICE’s methodology was not working for cancer drugs and this new process offers little change. With the Fund’s drug assessment now being handed back to NICE, we worry that patients in England will miss out on effective drugs being made available in other countries.

“The pharmaceutical industry must also take responsibility and begin offering more sensible prices. Absolutely nobody benefits if effective new drugs are not made available on the NHS, and we believe that enabling the Government to negotiate on price – as happens elsewhere in Europe – could significantly improve access for cancer patients.”

A NICE spokesperson said the organisation has already started looking at the drugs in the old CDF to see whether they can be recommended for routine funding.

“Today’s announcement signals that from now on all new cancer drugs will enter the NICE appraisal process before they are licensed,” they said. “For products referred by ministers to NICE after today, draft recommendations will be ready at the point of a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency and final guidance published within 90 days of them receiving marketing authorisation. This is faster than any other European country and will benefit NHS patients and companies alike.

“It’s now up to those companies to show that they recognise the challenges as well as the opportunities their new drugs present to patients and the NHS by showing the same flexibility on cost as they have in their recent negotiations with NHS England for drugs already in the CDF.”

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