Three drugs that NHS England said would be axed from the cancer drugs fund will remain available at least temporarily, following a series of appeals by drug companies.

The products had been in line for removal from the fund following a review by NHS England in January, in a bid to bring down spiralling costs.

Nineteen treatments have been dropped from the cancer drugs fund as of today.


Nineteen treatments have been dropped from the cancer drugs fund

The decisions to cut eribulin, a breast cancer treatment, and regorafenib, used to treat gastro-intestinal stromal tumours, from the fund will be reconsidered by the cancer drugs fund panel.

Pemetrexed, which helps to combat non-small cell lung cancer, will also be looked at again. In January the drug’s two indications – specific conditions for which the drug can be prescribed – were removed from the fund.

The manufacturers of each of the medicines made formal appeals to NHS England following the initial announcement of the changes to the fund, which saw eight drugs cut and eight having indications removed.

NHS England said the four drug indications for eribulin, regorafenib and pemetrexed had been subject to formal appeals, which had all been upheld “in part” and referred back to the panel for reconsideration.

Clinicians will be able to prescribe the treatments to patients though the fund until the evaluations are completed and subject to a final outcome.

Four new treatments have been added to the list of drugs eligible for cancer drugs fund applications, including panitumumab, a treatment for bowel cancer.

In January NHS England also announced a surprise £60m boost to the fund, bringing it up to £340m for 2015-16, even as it slashed the number of drugs available.

Eisai, the Japanese company which manufactures eribulin, marketed under the name Halaven, told HSJ that it had appealed against NHS England’s original decision due to what it felt were inconsistencies in the review process.

An Eisai spokesman said: “[We] appealed against the decision by NHS England to remove Halaven from the cancer drugs fund on the basis that the evaluation process was rushed and inconsistent.

“In addition, the decision failed to recognise the clinical efficacy of eribulin, something that has been acknowledged by the hundreds of doctors who have ensured more than 2,000 women have already benefited from the life extending treatment through the fund since 2011.”

A source familiar with negotiations around the fund said: “The very fact that so many appeals have been upheld suggests that this is not the most robust of processes.

“The reforms introduced to the cancer drugs fund are clearly a temporary fix. I would almost describe it as a sticking plaster on a sticking plaster.

“The pressure is really on now NHS England and Department of Health to come up with a longer term solution [to funding expensive cancer drugs].”

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “NHS cancer doctors on the cancer drugs fund panel have taken a careful look at how we ensure the drugs available offer the best clinical benefit, getting the most for patients from every pound.

“Drug manufacturers had the opportunity to request that the cancer programme of care board review their case. 

“The review looked at whether the standard operating procedures, on which we publicly consulted, were fully followed. It did not look at the medical decisions made by doctors on the [cancer drugs fund] panel.”