Behind the headlines: 'Government delaying cancer drug approvals'
Over the weekend, a number of news outlets reported that the government is "delaying introducing new cancer drugs into the NHS in order to save money."
Sir Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline, said that a delay in the uptake of innovative new drugs was being seen across Europe as governments introduce austerity measures to cope with increasing cost pressures.
He told the BBC that delays in the introduction of cancer drugs into the NHS were an example of this happening in the UK, commenting that "we're seeing a variety of the more innovative, and yes, more expensive, medicines, being delayed in a whole series of different diseases across Europe."
NICE's role in assessing new drugs and treatments
NICE's role is to produce evidence-based guidance on treatments and care in the NHS, and to make an assessment of whether the additional value of the technology justifies the price that the NHS is being asked to pay.
"We have not been asked to change the basis of our assessments simply to save money" says NICE chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon.
The guidance NICE produces on which new drug technologies to recommend to the NHS is made by independent advisory committees using evidence from clinical experts, patients and carers.
These recommendations are published as technology appraisal guidance, and NICE, together with the Department of Health (who decides which drugs need to be appraised), have reduced the time it takes to provide advice to the NHS, once a drug is licensed for use.
In 2002, there was an average gap of over four years between a drug being given marketing authorisation and NICE producing its first draft guidance.
In 2010/11 the average time was down to four months.
"NICE guidance is available pretty much as soon as doctors and patients begin to consider using new drugs" says Sir Andrew Dillon. "We know that this is something that everyone - patients, doctors, government and the industry - wants."
In addition, NICE has said ´yes´ to the majority of treatments it has assessed for availability on the NHS. More than 80 per cent of NICE technology appraisals since it has started have been positive.
The government has introduced a number of initiatives in order to improve innovation in the NHS, and recently launched a report on how innovation can be improved in healthcare.
NICE has a key role to play, and works hard to help ensure that new drugs are quickly and consistently taken up by the NHS. For example, NICE will be helping trusts develop local formularies so that all patients in England have access to clinically and cost-effective drugs.
"Our independent advisory committees specifically look for innovation in new drugs but it is of course the case that being ‘new' is not enough," says Sir Andrew Dillon.
"A new drug has to offer more to patients than existing treatments to justify its additional cost, and we work hard to help companies understand the need to make the case for their new drugs, using the evidence."
He said: "NICE, and drug companies including GSK have come a long way in recent years in putting in place systems [and] creating a dialogue."
He added: "[This] enables NICE to get the best possible understanding of the value that new treatments can bring, and for drug companies to understand the need for health systems like the NHS, and indeed ones around the world, to critically evaluate new treatments that are becoming available and to make sure they are making the right choices for patients."
27 February 2012