Cancer Drugs Fund ‘unfair’ – charity group

A charity group prompted debate at the UK pharma trade body’s national conference, by saying the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), for oncology drugs rejected by NICE, is “unfair” on patients who do not have cancer.

The fund was founded in 2011 and originally picked up the tab when NICE considered cancer drugs were not good value, or before the cost-effectiveness body had made a funding recommendation.

However the fund has overspent and has grown in size from £200 million in 2011 to £340 million for the financial year that began this month.

Hilary Newiss, chair of the charity umbrella group, National Voices, told the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry conference last week: “We need to be fair about how we allocate our resources. We felt that the Cancer Drugs Fund was unfair because it prioritises cancer patients over others.”

But Mark Flannagan, CEO of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, responded in a tweet: “It wasn’t [unfair]. Delivered [drugs] to 84,000 patients.”

He said that the CDF “extended life”, adding that new cancer drugs are needed on the NHS.

Newiss’ comments reflect concerns that were raised in the government’s original impact assessment of the CDF, which warned that it would divert funding away from other disease areas.

Other influential figures are also uncomfortable with the CDF, including NICE’s chairman, David Haslam, who last year said that cancer treatments should not be prioritised over those for other illnesses.

Newiss made her comments as a reformed CDF begins to take shape. From July, NICE will begin assessing new cancer drugs ahead of marketing authorisation, so that any drug given a positive draft recommendation will be funded by the NHS from the point of licence.

If the case for routine use is not clear, and more evidence is needed to prove cost-effectiveness, NICE can recommend conditional funding from the CDF for up to two years while the manufacturer gathers more data. This will be followed by a shortened review to consider routine funding on the NHS.

In a later panel debate, Carole Longson, health technology evaluation centre director at NICE, defended the organisation following industry criticism of its handling of cancer drug assessment.

At an event last week representatives of the cancer drug company Celgene described NICE as an “outlier”, claiming it had rejected oncology drugs that have become available elsewhere in Europe.

But Longson noted that other countries, such as Sweden, had based their systems on those used by NICE. “I don’t see us as an outlier – I see us as being in the vanguard in many respects,” she said.

Related stories:

England’s revised Cancer Drugs Fund to begin in April

Cancer Drugs Fund needs better management, say MPs

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