One in six cancer patients struggle to get their drugs

Cancer drugs are not reaching the patients who need them, experts have warned.

One in six people diagnosed with cancer have faced problems getting the drugs recommended by their doctors, according to a report by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London.

NHS rationing, red tape and hold-ups mean 16 per cent of patients have either faced delays getting cancer treatments or been denied them altogether, polling by the organisation has found.

Cancer specialists – who will today publish a 10-point manifesto calling for action to improve drugs access – say the sky-high price of modern treatments and inflexibility of NHS watchdog NICE are at the heart of the problem.

One in six people diagnosed with cancer have faced problems getting the drugs recommended by their doctors, according to a report by the Institute of Cancer Research

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the ICR, said: ‘We will only make step-change advances against cancer by giving patients access to genuinely innovative new drugs, which can attack cancer in brand new ways or as part of innovative combinations to overcome the challenge of drug resistance.

‘We need drug regulators and NICE to be faster and more flexible in their assessment of evidence, especially for the most innovative treatments.

‘And it’s crucial to address the extremely high prices of cancer drugs, which researchers and patients agree are the biggest barrier to getting them to patients.’

Scientists are coming up with increasingly advanced ways of tackling cancer – but delays in the drug development and regulatory systems mean it can be years before NHS patients get them.

This means people with cancer pay the price – because patients do better when they are given access to the best treatments as early as possible.

In many cases the NHS only makes treatments available months or even years after they have been approved in the US and other countries.

And even when they are approved, the most innovative drugs are often reserved for patients who have already tried and failed cheaper treatments such as chemotherapy.

WHAT IS IN THE NEW MANIFESTO TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO DRUGS? 

The Institute of Cancer Research’s new manifesto said NICE should instead prioritise genuinely innovative cancer treatments that attack cancer in brand new ways.

It said drug regulators need to be more flexible in assessing evidence, so that new treatments can reach patients as quickly as possible.

And it called for radical action to bring down the high prices of modern cancer drugs – such as tying prices to the benefits that treatments deliver, so that as many patients as possible can benefit from research advances.

The manifesto also warned there is very little drug discovery research for children’s cancer and that there are far too few clinical trials – limiting access to the latest life-saving or life-extending treatments.

There needs to be more flexibility on the age limits for clinical trials to avoid denying older children and young adults access to new treatments simply because they are judged too young or old.

The ICR polled 1,000 cancer patients about their treatment.

Some 16 per cent said they had either experienced a delay in receiving the cancer treatment recommended by their doctor or been denied a drug entirely.

A fifth of cancer patients had tried to enroll in clinical trials of new treatments – but only just over half of these people had been successful in doing so.

Patients said they had major concerns about the role of pharmaceutical companies, with only 12 per cent believing they are doing well at delivering new medicines.

They said they overwhelmingly believed that the high prices charged by pharmaceutical companies were the biggest barrier to gaining access to new cancer drugs – with 70 per cent saying they thought the prices charged by companies were ‘much too high’.

Professor Raj Chopra, head of cancer therapeutics at the ICR, said: ‘We need to see all cancer patients reap the benefits of research through access to innovative treatments, irrespective of what cancer they have, how old they are or where they live in the country.

‘It’s only by encouraging innovation that we can make big leaps forward in treating those forms of cancer that have so far missed out on major progress.’0

The organisation called for a shake-up in the rigid ‘cost-effectiveness’ model used by NICE to assess new drugs.

That system calculates the cost of giving a patient an extra ‘quality’ year of life – and if the cost is deemed to be above £30,000, or £50,000 for seriously ill patients, it is not funded.

The ICR’s new manifesto said NICE should instead prioritise genuinely innovative cancer treatments that attack cancer in brand new ways.

It said drug regulators need to be more flexible in assessing evidence, so that new treatments can reach patients as quickly as possible.

And it called for radical action to bring down the high prices of modern cancer drugs – such as tying prices to the benefits that treatments deliver, so that as many patients as possible can benefit from research advances.

The manifesto also warned there is very little drug discovery research for children’s cancer and that there are far too few clinical trials – limiting access to the latest life-saving or life-extending treatments.

There needs to be more flexibility on the age limits for clinical trials to avoid denying older children and young adults access to new treatments simply because they are judged too young or old.

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