NHS England push to rein in cancer drug prices

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The government is set to threaten to stop buying some expensive cancer drugs if manufacturers do not cut their prices, Newsnight has learned.

The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), set up in 2010, allowed patients in England to access drugs that would be deemed too expensive if subjected to the same cost-benefit process as other drugs.

But new proposals, to be revealed on Thursday, suggest the fund needs to be reformed to make it sustainable.

CDF has treated 55,000 patients so far.

Set up by Prime Minister David Cameron, the fund had the political benefit of defusing the damaging arguments that have arisen when officials have denied patients access to expensive cancer treatment to patients on cost-benefit grounds.

But it is now breaching its budget limits, which are set to be expanded on Thursday from £200m a year to £280m. So, civil servants say, it needs to be reformed in order to make it sustainable.

More generous

Under the plans, even cancer drugs in the CDF will be subjected to cost-benefit analyses - although they will still be more generous than similar processes as conventional drugs.

The intention is to bring some cancer drug prices closer into line with others. Drugs such as Kadcyla, which is produced by Roche, are at the centre of the argument.

The cancer drug extends life by a little under 6 months on average, and costs £90,000 for a course.

It is currently available through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

But, were NHS England buying it through its normal process, it would be willing to spend no more than between £10,000 and £25,000 for a drug with that sort of effectiveness.

The intention of the changes is to help force cancer drug prices slightly closer into line with those norms.

Officials state that no patients will have any current treatment terminated. And patients with rare conditions who have no options other than very expensive drugs, will continue to have access to them if their doctors apply for them.

In addition to reducing spending on expensive drugs, the proposals will also seek to reduce spending on drugs that are of lower effectiveness.

Chris Cook Article written by Chris Cook Chris Cook Policy editor, BBC Newsnight

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