The government recently announced plans to extend the availability of the cancer drugs fund until March 2016. The fund was introduced in 2011 to allow oncologists and cancer patients to access drugs that had not been approved for general use in the NHS and was due to end in April 2014.
Personally I'm very pleased by this news. Patients with rare cancers like Leiomyosarcoma (LMS) generally have very few treatment options. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is responsible for approving new drugs for use in the NHS, however decisions are sometimes taken not to submit a drug to the approvals process because the number of potential users is low and the cost of the process high. Such decisions can leave those with rare cancers unable to access drugs from which they could benefit. One such drug is Pazopanib, This drug is beneficial to some patients with LMS, however NICE decided not to take the drug through the approvals process. This is where the cancer drugs fund comes in, LMS patients can get access to Pazopanib through the scheme. Pazopanib is likely to be my next treatment when I finally have to move on from Trabectedin so it is great to know that funding for it should be available.
Like a lot of health policy initiatives the cancer drugs fund is not without issues. The NICE drug approval process gives NICE considerable power to negotiate a good price for the drug with the drug manufacturer. Some feel that the cancer drugs fund weakens this negotiating power as drug companies know that patients will be able to access their drugs through the fund without NICE approval. This may lead to higher costs for drugs. When NICE approved Trabectedin, the drug I'm currently being treated with, they did so on the basis that the drug manufacturer would only charge them for a maximum of 5 treatment cycles per patient. If the manufacturer had not made this offer NICE may well have rejected the drug. I've now had 17 cycles of Trabectedin, 12 of which have been funded by the drug company. Each cycle costs around £3,500 so the NHS has saved over £40,000 through the deal NICE negotiated. Trabectedin was approved before the drugs fund came into existence, it is interesting to speculate if the drug company would have accepted the same deal if the cancer drugs fund had been in place back then.
Despite this issue most stakeholders seem to support the extension of the fund. My oncologist says that he and his colleagues like the flexibility that the fund gives them in selecting treatments, cancer patients are pleased to know they can get the drugs they need and cancer charities as supportive too. The fund costs around £200 million a year to run, money well spent in my opinion.
I will be going ahead with my next cycle of chemotherapy on Tuesday (blood tests permitting) and will have my next scan at the end of November, so for now I don't need to access the fund.
I've been out and about in Bath with my camera. Bath Abbey is one of the most striking buildings in the city and contains some beautiful stained glass windows, the one shown below is my personal favourite. In 973 Edgar, the first king of all England was crowned in Bath. This 19th century window commemorates Edgar's coronation. The man crowning Edgar is his Archbishop of Canterbury, Dunstan (later St. Dunstan).