The chief executive of AstraZeneca has commented that lengthy negotiations between drugmakers and the NHS are hampering the delivery of medicines to NHS patients.
In particular, the latest generation of cancer therapies, which are already widely available in both North America and Europe, have been delayed in Britain.
Pharmaceutical groups face additional barriers in providing drugs to patients in the UK, with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence demanding proof of both the effectiveness and value for money.
And further negotiations are often demanded with the NHS itself.
Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, believes that the stringency of this system is causing critical delays
“The problem with that is in the meantime, patients don’t get access. So it is really making it complicated for everybody.”
There is increasing concern about the high cost of medicine in the NHS system, along with patients access to it.
Recently, NICE has ruled that a breast cancer treatment, Kadcyla, produced by Roche is too expensive for the NHS system at £90,000 annually.
Yet patient groups have criticised this decision, pointing out that it can seriously prolong the lives of cancer sufferers.
Many believe that there is a fundamental disconnect between NICE and other major regulators, such as the European Medicines Agency and the Food and Drugs Administration in the United States.
AstraZeneca’s lung cancer drug Tagrisso had been approved for application after phase II trials, yet a third phase of trials was ordered in order to assess whether the drug would ultimately prove to be cost-effective.
Thus, Tagrisso has only been available in limited form through the Cancer Drugs Fund as a consequence.
Several other treatments have recently been deemed too expensive for NHS utilisation as well.
Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo cancer treatment, which costs £100,000 annually, is one such example.
While the Cancer Drugs Fund has made some positive contribution, it is clear that valuable medicines are still being denied to NHS patients.
In particular, the two-year time limit on funding can be problematical for drug manufacturers.
“The biggest issue that is developing in the UK is the [approval] process itself, which is becoming very complicated,” the aforementioned Soriot commented.
NICE states that the organisation and NHS England are currently collaborating in order to refine their procedures, and that this would result in the organisation applying “more flexibility to our overall appraisal process for all new drugs.”
This could ultimately result in the overall process being reduced by three months.
But NICE has also called on drug companies “to play their part from the start by presenting a clear case on the clinical benefits of their drugs and pricing their drugs affordably”.
Overall NHS prescription costs exceeded £14 billion in the most recent financial year.