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British Government risks losing Cancer Drugs!!


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NHS risks losing cancer drugs

The UK system is driving away the makers of new treatments

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

One of the world’s leading drug companies is threatening to withdraw some of its new cancer treatments from the process by which they are approved for use in the National Health Service.

Cancer patients in Britain will consequently be denied more effective drugs that are available to sufferers in other countries.

Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, has already refused to supply economic data on its drug Avastin for treatment of lung and breast cancer to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the authority that evaluates the cost-effectiveness of medicines for the NHS. This means Avastin will not be available on the NHS for those diseases.

Avastin is said to double the time a breast cancer patient’s condition remains stable when compared with existing treatments. Studies have also shown improved survival rates for lung cancer victims.

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Roche said last week it will consider withdrawing from other evaluations rather than submit products only for them to be rejected by Nice as too expensive.

The statement is the latest twist in the growing row over decisions by Nice. Earlier this month Nice caused an outcry in a preliminary decision when it rejected the use of Avastin (also known as bevacizumab), Sutent (sunitinib), Nexavar (sorafenib) and Torisel (temsirolimus) as too expensive to treat kidney cancer.

“The alternative to these drugs for many patients is death,” said Jonathan Waxman, professor of oncology at Imperial College, London. “Nice is making terrible mistakes.”

The survival rates for cancer in Britain are already among the lowest in Europe — on a par with Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, according to data published last year. However, cancer charities acknowledge there has been significant improvement in rates since the government made the issue a priority with its NHS Cancer Plan, first launched in 2000.

Some consultants argue, however, that Britain already spends less on cancer drugs than many other European countries and that it is “crazy” to reject drugs proven to prolong life.

Richard Barker, director- general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which represents the drug companies, said: “Nice does a tough and necessary job, but is making errors because of a very mechanistic approach.

It relies too much on arithmetic and not enough on clinical judgment.”

Nice was created in 1999 with the aim of ensuring that decisions on the best and most cost-effective drugs for the NHS were made at a national level, were transparent and could be challenged.

When the drug companies scrutinised the economic modelling used by Nice, they realised that the estimated costs of their drugs and effectiveness could vary widely.

Even more seriously, some of the calculations were wrong. There was an outcry in the medical community in February 2006 when Nice stated that Temodal (temozolomide) — declared as the biggest breakthrough in treating brain tumours for decades — did not offer value for money.

Temodal had won approval from the European regulator in 2004, but many British patients were denied treatment as Nice wrangled over costs.

Peter Davison, 48, a manager for Cambridge University Press, was among the few British patients who received the drug — because he was diagnosed with a brain tumour while working in Singapore.

“I was lucky to be abroad,” said Davison, who is now in remission. “Four months after I had the operation to remove the tumour, I was running and climbing mountains.”

When Schering-Plough — the pharmaceutical company which markets Temodal — prepared its appeal against the Nice decision, it identified an error in the modelling. Once corrected, the model showed the drug was cost-effective — and as a result it was ultimately approved for NHS use.

Not surprisingly, the drugs companies now want full access to the economic models, with the chance to check the accuracy of the calculations. In May, the High Court ruled that Pfizer and Esai, the companies which market the Alzheimer drug Aricept, should be given full access to these models.

“We believe this modelling might not be fit for purpose and we want to check it,” said a

Pfizer spokesman last week. Nice said it was seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords after the High Court decision.

Even where the models are correct, consultants and patients’ groups say Nice fails to give proper weight to the evidence from clinicians and patients’ groups.

The Sunday Times has highlighted the fact that NHS patients do not even have the option of paying for the drugs privately because of government ban on “co-payments”. The government has said it will review the issue.

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of Nice, said the evaluation process was recognised internationally and Nice had been commended by the World Health Organisation for the quality of its work. He said: “We have a finite amount of money to spend on healthcare and we have to divide it up in as fair and as equitable a way as we can. We can’t say to yes to everything. It’s awkward, it’s difficult, it’s unpleasant.”

Top-ups are fair

Patients should be given the chance to pay extra for the best available drugs in addition to their NHS treatment, according to a Sunday Times poll.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said patients should be permitted to top up their treatment. The government is reviewing the issue after a Sunday Times campaign.

According to the latest YouGov poll, 73% believe that if treatments exist they should be available on the NHS. Only 21% think there should be a limit on treatment. Nearly a third said they would be prepared to pay extra taxes so the more expensive treatments could be available on the NHS.

Alan Johnson, the health secretary, has asked Professor Mike Richards, the cancer czar, to consider whether so-called co-payments should be allowed. The government has previously argued such a scheme would create a two-tier service and has warned patients that care may be withdrawn if they pay for drugs privately.

Have your say

Can we please look at this logically, without emotive comments. there is a finite amount of money available for all drug treatments. Can the people who expect everysingle new (and expensive) drug to be available on the NHS please tell me what drugs we are going to cut to meet this cost?

Lynne, Cambridge,

These drugs have limited efficacy (NO benefit in breast see N Engl J Med. 2007 Dec 27;357(26):2666-76), yet approved by NICE!. A large proportion of the research cost was met by tax payers & charities, as all these drugs rely on excellent freely available public sector research.

Simon Newman, Shepherds Bush, UK

NICE, the government and the NHS will need to look carefully at the findings if they are to avoid various court cases taken up by cancer sufferers and their relatives, particularly if "top ups" continues to be denied to NHS patients. Make the accounting figures widely available to drug companies.

John Cox, Sevenoaks, UK

The drug industry is making a fortune out cancer treatments precisely because it is such an emotive area.

Drug prices should reflect the cost of production and research, currenly the profit margins are staggering.

If NICE the industy to expolit public money, many more patients will go without.

John Craig, London,

NICE has the usual Quango problem of not wanting to spend any money. They see themselves as financial gatekeepers with responsibility to be parsimonious. That's why they were created.

They should be free to lobby for extra money if they think it is necessary and the politicians should decide..

Peter, Middlewich, UK

God forbid that Sir.M Rawlins has any problems with his health. Would he like the fact that he would be refused the medication he required no because he may be able to afford the price of medication even if we could afford it it would be refused. Workings of the system yet again compassion needed

Keith Nadin, Witney, United Kingdom

I encourage anyone with cancer to look abroad for treatment. It's the one thing that america has progressed well on (with MD Anderson at hull). The system here is too mechanical and basic text-book driven. Cancer attacks quickly but there are huge medical advances to battle it..just not here in UK

Louise, Worcester Park,

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