Sunday, August 24, 2008

Professers slam NICE on cancer drugs

I have a particularly nasty cancer, Multiple Myeloma. When I was diagnosed five years ago I was told I probably had two years to live. Today the disease is in remission thanks to the excellent care that I have had with the team at St Bartholomew's (Barts) Hospital, where I went through three clinical trails in the course of my treatment. In each case that gave me exposure to the way we test and then license cancer drugs in the UK, and my view is that the system betrays the hard work of the doctors on the front line when the National Institute for Clinical Excellence refuses to licence drugs that save or prolong life on the basis of some opaque actuarial calculation. Basically, they put a monetary value on a year of human life and then plug drug performance into a spreadsheet on that basis. If the drug is 'cost-effective' then it gets licensed and becomes available on the NHS. If the drug doesn't deliver 'value' for money then it gets the thumbs down. Now that may sound reasonable, except that they don't show anyone their models and there are many cases where every similar body in the developed world disagrees with their conclusions. This leads to situations where some cancer drugs are available almost everywhere else in the world except for England, and that includes such faraway and different places as Scotland. For example the drug that initially saved my life, Velcade, fell foul of this process until a general outcry caused a change of heart. This disgraceful situation is now the subject of a letter to the Times, signed by no less than 26 professers of medicine working in cancer research.

Something needs to be done to stop the tragic situation of desperate patient selling their homes to fund cancer drugs that are available free of charge everywhere else in the world than England. Others, of course, just die in pain for the want of modern treatment. It seems that there is no end to the damage that this numbers-obsessed government can do.

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