NHS cuts multiple cancer treatments from UK Cancer Drugs Fund

The NHS disclosed Friday that 25 indications would no longer be covered by the UK's Cancer Drugs Fund starting in November. Peter Clark, chair of the Cancer Drugs Fund, remarked "it is our duty to ensure we get maximum value from every penny available on behalf of patients," adding that "we must ensure we invest in those treatments that offer the most benefit, based on rigorous evidence-based clinical analysis and an assessment of the cost of those treatments."

The NHS noted that the budget for the Cancer Drugs Fund had been increased from 200 million pounds ($303.6 million) in 2013-2014 to 340 million pounds ($516.3 million) as of this past April. Further, it said that despite previous actions to reduce costs, including the withdrawal last January of funding for multiple cancer drugs in various indications, current projections estimate the fund is set to exceed its budget by 70 million pounds ($103.4 million), reaching about 410 million pounds ($622.9 million) for this year, "in the absence of further prioritisation."

The NHS explained that the decision on which drugs remained in the Cancer Drugs fund "was based on the advice of clinicians, the best available evidence, and the cost of the treatment." However, the agency acknowledged that despite the cuts, the fund is not expected to be back on budget in the current fiscal year, but that it should operate within its specified budget during 2016-2017.

The 17 drugs targeted in the latest round of cuts include Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab) and Kadcyla (trastuzumab emtansine), as well as Celgene's Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel), Imnovid (pomalidomide) and Revlimid (lenalidomide). Commenting on the decision, Wim Souverijns, Celgene general manager for the UK and Ireland, remarked that "the way in which cancer drugs are commissioned for use in England is not fit for purpose." He said that "by arbitrarily removing drug funding using a scoring system that fails to recognise that in some cancers there are still high levels of unmet need, NHS England has created a scenario where life sciences investment and innovation in the UK is being put in genuine jeopardy."

Meanwhile, Alison Clough, acting CEO of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), described the de-listings as "extremely disappointing," adding that the NHS decision runs counter to the Cancer Drugs Fund's objective of allowing "patients to benefit from timely access to the innovative cancer medicines that are routinely available to patients in other European countries." She further stated that "the ABPI looks forward to the upcoming public consultation on creating a more sustainable solution for managing the Cancer Drugs Fund from 2016 [and] we sincerely hope that the future proposals will lead to a robust solution finally being put in place."

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