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Cancer drugs delayed 'to cut costs'

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The head of Britain’s biggest drugs company has accused the government of systematically delaying the introduction of new cancer drugs in order to save money.

GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Sir Andrew Witty said ministers were making false economies in order to achieve short-term cuts to the deficit in the public finances.

However the Department of Health insisted there had been no changes to the assessment process for cancer drugs. It issued a warning to the pharmaceutical companies that they needed to take a “hard look” at the high charges they were making to the NHS at a time of economic austerity.

In an interview with the BBC, Sir Andrew said governments across Europe had already cut drug prices by 5% a year - costing GSK around £300 million per annum - as they sought to drive down their debts. However, he said governments were now seeking to go further in an effort to achieve even bigger savings - and he highlighted what he said was Britain’s decision to delay new cancer treatments.

Professor Jonathan Waxman, professor of oncology at Imperial College London, said that a number of new cancer drugs had been blocked, even though they offered “real advances” for patients. He said the approvals process was now so “over-regulated” by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) - which assesses the cost-effectiveness of new treatments - it was no longer worth firms applying.

“It is a complete loss-leader for them - waste of time,” he said. “We are going to have a situation in the UK where drugs are not available for our patients. It is a disaster.”

A Department of Health spokesman said the government had increased spending on health, including new drugs, and that thousands more patients were getting access to the most advanced treatments.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • disgraceful! Where/when does it all end?

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  • Are they sulking because their drug Tyverb/Tykerb/lapatinib is so good that:

    "the extent that these treatments can improve overall survival appears to be small or undefined"

    NICE's Sir Andrew Dillon

    No cure, limited value, massive expense...

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