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NICE denies its role is to save money on the drugs bill

Responding to comments by GSK's CEO Sir Andrew Witty, NICE says new drugs have to offer more to patients than existing treatments

The UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has denied it has been asked to delay the uptake of new drugs in the UK because they are too expensive.

The cost-effectiveness watchdog was responding to comments made by GlaxoSmithKline's CEO Sir Andrew Witty over the weekend in which he said European austerity measures were leading to delays in the approval of innovative new drugs.

In response to Sir Andrew's outspoken comments NICE said it produces evidence-based guidance on treatments and assesses whether the additional value of the technology justifies the price that the NHS is being asked to pay.

"We have not been asked to change the basis of our assessments simply to save money," said NICE chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon.

NICE said that it is increasingly quick to assess new drugs, with the average gap between a drug's marketing authorisation and NICE's first draft guidance shrinking from over four years in 2002 to four months in 2010-11.

"NICE guidance is available pretty much as soon as doctors and patients begin to consider using new drugs," said Sir Andrew Dillon. "We know that this is something that everyone - patients, doctors, government and the industry - wants."

In addition, NICE says it has said ´yes´ to the majority of treatments it has assessed for availability on the NHS, noting that more than 80 per cent of its technology appraisals have been positive.

"Our independent advisory committees specifically look for innovation in new drugs but it is of course the case that being 'new' is not enough," said Sir Andrew Dillon.

"A new drug has to offer more to patients than existing treatments to justify its additional cost, and we work hard to help companies understand the need to make the case for their new drugs, using the evidence."

Nevertheless, a number of cancer drugs have recently failed to persuade NICE they are innovative enough and in the last four months it has issued negative final draft guidance on:

• Merck's Erbitux (cetuximab), Roche's Avastin (bevacizumab) and Amgen's Vectibix (panitumumab) in metastatic colorectal cancer
Sanofi's Jevtana (cabazitaxel) in prostate cancer
• AstraZeneca's breast cancer drug Faslodex (fulvestrant)
• Eisai's breast cancer drug Halaven (eribulin)

Over the weekend, GSK's Sir Andrew Witty told the BBC that the introduction of cancer drugs is being “systematically delayed” in the UK.

“What's being lost in this stampede for cost cutting is any kind of strategic thoughtfulness about what the role of the pharmaceutical intervention can be, in terms of, for example, keeping people out of hospital and getting them back to work more quickly.

"We're seeing a variety of the more innovative, and yes, more expensive, medicines, being delayed in a whole series of different diseases across Europe," he said.

Governments are looking at the drug business simply as a “procurement business”, he said, noting that it is understandably an easier political decision to cut drug prices rather than close a hospital.

28th February 2012

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