New cancer drugs taking longer to reach NHS patients

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NHS patients are waiting longer for new cancer drugs because of delays in taking them through clinical trials and getting them approved for use, a major new analysis of regulatory data reveals.

The analysis found that rapid advances in cancer research have driven a big increase in the numbers of treatments developed – but that efforts to speed up access for patients are not bearing fruit.

A new report by The Institute of Cancer Research, London, also found stark differences in the rate of development of new cancer drugs for different tumour types – with 15 drugs licensed for breast cancer from 2000-16, but none at all for brain cancer.

And the report raises concerns that NICE is not doing enough to ensure the most innovative treatments reach patients – with innovative drugs actually less likely to have been approved for use on the NHS than much less innovative treatments.

The report, From patent to patient – analysing access to innovative cancer drugsexamines all 97 cancer drugs licensed for 177 indications through the European Medicines Agency between 2000 and 2016, to assess how successful the system is being at delivering new treatments for patients.

The rate of drug authorisations has almost doubled over the time period – with 7.5 drug indications a year approved by the EMA from 2000-8, compared with 14.6 a year from 2009-16.

But the average time from when a cancer drug is patented to approval by NICE increased from 12.7 years from 2000-08 to 14.1 years from 2009-16, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) found.

The ICR believes drug development should be getting faster as targeted cancer treatments can be approved through smaller, smarter trials which involve selecting patients based on the genetics of their cancer.

But the report found that the average time taken between the start of phase I clinical trials of a drug and EMA authorisation increased by over a year from 7.8 years in 2000-08 to 9.1 years in 2009-16 – suggesting delays are occurring during trials and licensing.

NICE is starting its appraisals earlier – often before licensing has been completed – but that has not been enough to counteract the pressures that overall are increasing the time for drugs to reach patients.

And NICE has not met its commitment to conduct its appraisals more quickly. Drugs took an average of 16 months to go through NICE appraisal in 2009-2016, barely shorter than the 16.7 months in 2000-08.

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