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Witty to lead way in fast-tracking medicine through UK system

Published on 03/11/17 at 09:49am

The UK government has announced its response to the Accelerated Access Review that was published last year, with former GSK CEO tasked to lead a panel in proposing a handful of drugs and devices to be sped through the system.

The panel will begin its work in April 2018 and should see approximately five drugs or devices to be selected for fast-track status, which could see them be made available four years ahead of the standard process.

As part of the measures adopted, there will also be a funding boost provided to companies to support drug development. The government plans to boost financial support to small and medium-sized business to the tune of £35 million, with a further £39 million being used to promote the use of new medicines.

Rounding out the full figure is £6 million to be used to support pharmaceutical and diagnostic products and £6 million for used in aiding clinicians with adopting new treatments and technologies.

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, reacted to the news by commenting:

“I’m pleased that the Government is acting to speed up access for patients in the UK to the most exciting new treatments. I very much welcome today’s announcement. We do need to be aware that the number of treatments and technologies that end up getting ‘breakthrough’ designation could be quite small. But this is a genuine opportunity to accelerate access to some real innovations.

“It is hugely frustrating for researchers, doctors and most of all for patients when innovative new cancer treatments are not made available on the NHS until years after the rest of the world, especially when they have only been made possible by UK science.”

The announcement comes ahead amid an uncertain time for UK pharmaceutical companies looking ahead to Brexit. With the likelihood of a hard Brexit only increasing amid stalling negotiations, the industry is becoming nervous about the situation that could be faced on bringing drugs to market in the UK.

Any measure to improve access has then be roundly welcomed by the industry, with Dr Richard Torbett, Executive Director of Commercial Policy at the ABPI, stating:

“The Government’s commitment to speeding up access to the most innovative medicines and treatments is very much welcome. This should benefit thousands of NHS patients as well as delivering significant long-term savings for the health service if appropriate investment in these transformative therapies is made available.”

In return for access being improved and funding being provided, the pharmaceutical industry, in return, will have to work with the government on pricing of products. In fact, one of the major barriers that slow down access to new medicines is the pricing barrier for the NHS – cost-effectiveness is tested strictly by NICE and this often leads to the butting of heads with an industry keen to drive a tough bargain regarding the value of medicines.

Ben Hargreaves

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