NICE unveils five year plan promising faster access to medicines


NICE has included proposals to speed up evaluations and focus on new technology such as digital health in a new strategy to provide faster access to new medical treatments and innovations. 

The cost-effectiveness body has produced a new vision for the next five years, after reflecting on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NICE said the pandemic showed the importance of swiftness and flexibility and embracing new forms of innovation in healthcare technology.

In a strategy document, NICE said its purpose will not change, but it will try and improve the speed and efficiency of its technology evaluations.

New treatments will be assessed at pace and guidelines could be changed to reflect the latest evidence instead of reviews every few years.

NICE will focus on ensuring guidance is used in NHS organisations so that patients get access to the latest therapies and “real world” data will be used to resolve gaps in knowledge and improve access to new technology.

Since it began work around 22 years ago NICE has seen its reputation across the world grow, with its role and remit growing.

But it has also faced criticism from pharma companies that say it undervalues medicines - patients in the country were denied access to the expensive cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi for four years because of a pricing row with NICE and the NHS.

While Vertex was aggressive in its pursuit of a better price for Orkambi, no-one involved emerged looking good, with despairing patient groups pointing out that children were suffering and dying because of the delay accessing the potentially life-extending drug.

NICE will seek to avoid this kind of stand-off with proactive engagement with pharma companies earlier in the development pipeline.

It will also create guidance that has a more proactive, recognising the value of new technologies classes such as diagnostics, advanced therapy medicinal products and digital health.

NICE has been consulting on proposals to change its cost-effectiveness methods since November last year, including expanding technology reviews beyond Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) assessments to include other factors such as the severity of a condition and how technologies reduce health inequalities.

Professor Gillian Leng CBE, NICE chief executive, said: “Our work to produce rapid COVID-19 guidelines during the pandemic has hastened our desire for change. We demonstrated that we can be flexible and fleet of foot, without losing the rigour of our work, and we will now look to embed that approach in our day-to-day work.

“The world around us is changing. New treatments and technologies are emerging at a rapid pace, with real-world data driving a revolution in evidence. We will help busy healthcare professionals to navigate these new changes and ensure patients have access to the best care and latest treatments.”

NICE chairman Sharmila Nebhrajani OBE, said: “The healthcare of the future will look radically different from today – new therapies will combine pills with technologies, genomic medicine will make early disease detection a reality and AI and machine learning will bring digital health in disease prevention and self care to the fore.

“Our new strategy will help us respond to these advances, finding new and more flexible ways to evaluate products and therapies for use in the NHS, ensuring that the most innovative and clinically effective treatments are available to patients at a price the taxpayer can afford.”