The National Health Service is one of the main points of pride for the modern Briton. The fact that any person, regardless of their financial circumstances, can walk into a hospital and immediately receive state-provided medication has been the envy of many countries since its inception in 1948. Unfortunately, it does have its problems, and one of the most pressing ones is the NHS's budget. Because its funding is drawn from Government coffers, the sorts of drugs, pharmaceuticals and treatment that can be offered in state hospitals can sometimes be limited.
Case in point, according to a recommendation from NICE (National Institute for Health Care and Excellence), the cancer-fighting drug Kadcyla should no longer be available to the NHS.
Breast cancer is one of the leading issues of women's health in today's world, with no less 50,000 women being diagnosed with it as of 2011, and affecting 4/5s of all women over 50. Due to extensive research and funding, it's now possible for 2/3rds of all those diagnosed with breast cancer to survive, however this is highly dependent on the sort of care they can have access to.
Kadcyla in particular is known to extend the lifespan of cancer sufferers by as much as six months. In the case of breast cancer, it can be used to treat those with HERC-2 positive cancer that has already began to spread to other parts of the body, and the tumours of which cannot be surgically removed.
As of this moment following a discount offered by Kadcyla's manufacturer, Roche, women with breast cancer still have access to the drug through the Cancer Trust Fund, and is due to expire upon March 2016. Any person receiving the treatment can continue until they or their doctor decides it should stop. The Cancer Trust Fund was specifically set up to allow patients access to cancer pharmaceuticals not usually available on the NHS.
This is not the first time that NICE has restricted access to promising pharmaceutical products to the NHS in recent years, having also denied BMS's Opvido – a drug that has promising results for treating smoking-related lung cancer. Despite clear results, the budget watchdog insists that the costs of the drug are just too high for NHS use.
However NICE believes that the £90,000 per patient price tag for Kadcyla places far too much of a strain on the NHS's already stretched resources. It insists that the price of the drug is far too high to justify its use in national clinics, and states that the findings in its report are final. That said, they are also open to further discussion as further research reveals new insights. Certainly, many have suggested that drug companies could stand to lower more exclusive prices of their products if we wish to see them circulate more readily amongst the health system.
According to Paul Workman, chief spokesperson of the Institute of Cancer Research, pharmaceutical companies should work to with NICE to reduce extortive prices for promising immunotherapies. While he agrees that the costs of drugs should be reflective of their supply and demand, he still believes they should be made as affordable as possible if we're to see any major impact on cancer within the next decade.
Likewise the Government is looking to bring in an alternative pharmaceutical when Kadcyla's support through the Cancer Trust Fund ends in March, however so far no firm developments have been confirmed.
Leading cancer charities are, naturally, a little worried that these developments may prevent those suffering from cancer from receiving life-saving treatment, especially if Roche fails to reach a lasing agreement between itself and those responsible for the NHS's annual budget.
Breast Cancer Now spokesperson Sally Greenbrook in particular has said that she fails to see how the outlook of cancer patients can be in any improved by taking Kadcyla off the Cancer Trust Fund. While she's happy to keep campaigning for positive change within the Trust, she fails to see how this can be achieved if it's limited by rulings similar to those published by NICE, and no signs of price negotiation.
Greenbrook fears this will have severe impacts on cancer patients.