Thousands more cancer patients in England will be offered vital treatments in a £160m boost to the cancer drugs fund, the Department of Health has said.
The fund, which has helped more than 55,000 cancer patients since it was set up four years ago, will be increased from £200m a year to £280m a year.
The move will mean many more patients with rare conditions will benefit from life extending drugs recommended by their doctor.
With the number of people diagnosed with cancer each year increasing by 9 per cent since 2009, and the rising costs of ever more sophisticated drugs, the fund has an important role in helping patients receive treatment, enabling them to access drugs that are not routinely funded by the NHS.
Cancer experts at NHS England have also pinpointed two new cutting edge drugs which will be added to the fund, a DH spokeswoman said.
These are Xtandi for prostate cancer, and Revlimid for a new group of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood condition.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “It’s vitally important that as many people as possible have access to these pioneering, life enhancing drugs, and we need to continue to focus our efforts on increasing access to these innovative treatments, whilst ensuring that all patients continue to receive the effective drugs which are right for them.
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“By protecting the NHS budget, we have been able to create this fund which has given hope to many thousands of people, their families and friends, and has an essential role in helping us realise our ambition to be the best place in Europe to survive cancer.”
Following an extension last year, the fund is confirmed until March 2016. Longer term, the DH will consider carefully with NHS England the best course of action for the fund in the future. The new money means the amount committed will be £1.16bn in total.
Peter Clark, chairman of the fund, has written to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens recommending the fund’s panel of experts re-evaluate a number of drugs currently on the list and make decisions about what will deliver greatest benefit to patients.
NHS England has accepted and agreed to these proposals.
Professor Clark, an oncologist, said: “The cancer drugs fund has had a positive impact on cancer treatment for patients, with 2,000 people gaining access to the fund every month.
“To ensure patients continue to have access to the best innovative treatments now and in the future, we must re-evaluate some of the drugs on the list.
“This is absolutely the right thing to do for patients, and I am pleased Simon Stevens has accepted my recommendations.”
Mr Stevens said: “Since its inception, the cancer drugs fund has successfully enabled the funding of new cancer medicines for tens of thousands of patients in England.
“We want to build on that success by expanding funding again this year to enable cancer patients to access innovative effective new treatments.
“Within this extra funding we want to ensure the drugs provide maximum benefits to patients and that the [fund] incentivises responsible pricing by drug companies.
“We want to create a sustainable cancer drugs fund that will ensure patients don’t miss out on innovative treatments that are on the horizon.”
Mr Stevens has also asked Professor Clark to work with health guidance organisation the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, patient groups and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry to develop options for ensuring greater alignment between the fund and NICE assessment processes.
Chris Askew, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: “This is good news for patients because the cancer drugs fund remains the only way that they can access expensive but effective cancer treatments that NICE cannot approve.
“The changes proposed today should improve the way that the fund operates and make better use of the money available. However, we remain concerned that this is not a long term solution to the problem of access to drugs that currently exists in the UK.
“We’ve seen several highly effective breast cancer drugs, such as Kadcyla, rejected for routine use on the NHS due to their high cost.
“It’s encouraging therefore to see the Department of Health commit to putting pressure on the pharmaceutical industry to review the way in which they choose to price their products as we believe this is key to solving the problem.
“Innovative, effective drugs sitting on the shelf are of no use to anybody, least of all patients. Until we have a sustainable system in place, the future availability of the treatments that NICE are forced to reject will continue to remain uncertain.”