Great Britain cuts treatments with little chance of success to free more money for more effective medicines

The National Health Service in the UK discontinues the coverage of 25 cancer drugs
Twenty five drugs that each year give a last chance to patients with cancer – including breast, prostate and colon cancer will not be funded by the National Health Service in the UK (NHS), which plans to optimize the costs for 2015, and to restructure the budget in an optimal way.

Non-governmental organizations accuse the health authorities in taking “a dramatic step backwards” and destroying the lifeline, which extends the lives of thousands of cancer patients. Annually more than 3000 patients with colon cancer, as well as 1 700 patients with breast cancer will be affected by the decision. Medications that no longer receive funding in some cases, have been increased the life expectancy from eight months to two and a half years, according to the statistics.

In 2011 the center-right coalition in the UK set up a special fund for cancer drugs, following the publicly requested by the conservatives commitment not to deny more treatments because of financial considerations. Although the Fund’s budget was increased from 200 to 280 million pounds, the demand proved to be such that by the end of the financial 2015 it is expected to have spent nearly 380 million.

At the beginning of the year the NHS announced it would increase its annual budget to 340 mln., but even with this increase the fund cannot afford to continue paying for all cancer treatments, which have been financed until now. The patients, who have  already received funding approval  up to April, will continue receiving their medicines from the NHS.

The Chair of the Fund said that “difficult decisions” had to be taken in order to give priority to the medicines that show best values, and that such a step has been obligatory. From the 84 treatments, examined in the analysis of the fund, 59 continued to be funded after March this year, while 25 were “written off”. Five treatments for colon cancer, four for leukemia, three for breast cancer, three for lymphoma, three for sarcoma, as well as drugs used to treat prostate, ovary, lung, pancreas and kidneys cancer  are among those which are no longer financed.

There are three new drugs that will continue to be funded after the analysis – Panitumumab – for treating colon cancer; Ibrutinib – for treating mantle cell lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma type; and Ibrutinib – for treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Professor Peter Clark, Chair of the Fund, said: ” We have been through a robust, evidence-based process to ensure the drugs available offer the best clinical benefit, getting the most for patients from every pound.” “These are difficult decisions, but if we don’t prioritise the drugs that offer the best value, many people could miss out on promising, more effective treatments that are in the pipeline.” The decisions were taken as a result of the analysis of experts on the national level – including oncologists, pharmacists and representatives of patients who independently of each other reviewed the drugs available so far in the Fund, as well as the new applications. Their evaluation included clinical benefit, survival and quality of life, safety and toxicity of treatment, the level of unmet need and the average cost per patient.

Lord Darzi, former Labor health minister, said that the NHS should stop the unnecessary treatment of dying patients in order to help financing and this way – the increase in the cost of new cancer drugs. He told The Times, that the reduction of unnecessary tests and treatments with little chance of success will free up money for expensive modern and better medicines that the health service is struggling to provide for patients.