Has NICE had its day?

Recent news that NICE has once again snookered a new cancer drug on the basis of cost is a despairing blow to the thousands of families across the UK hit by cancer every year. I’m not talking about breast cancer here specifically, or even the drug trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcla) , I’m referring to any drug commercially developed delivering emotional and real physical benefit to people in their time of need.

It’s like giving hope and then whipping it away again. I speak from personal experience, as I am sure many do.

Campaigners are urging pharmaceutical giant Roche to lower the cost of their new breast cancer treatment as NICE rejects its purchase on cost grounds (£90,000 per patient per year).

I don’t agree with that approach. Most of the valuable research into drugs is carried out commercially and commercial companies like Roche have spent over £1bn in developing this one. They are entitled to make a commercial return on their investment which in turn funds more research and development, and they will build on the experiences of this treatment to improve the next. Why develop new treatments if the NHS via NICE will not buy it? Luckily they will sell abroad and still subsidise research here, but why should they. We need to do our bit.

The drug can add months of life to women dying of breast cancer, and Roche says the price reflects years of hard work. I agree. In trials, Kadcyla extended the lives of women by almost six months. Who knows what it may lead to., or what can develop in an extra 6 months of life. Rather than Roche reducing the cost the government should budget accordingly.

As something of a financial expert and an opinionated armchair economist, I take the view that the Chancellor assesses his spending needs, and then raises the required income via taxation. Ok, its simplistic, but high-time that the government supported drug companies and charities who carry out the research that the government should be promoting themselves. Kadcyla will be the third breast cancer drug made by Roche to have been rejected by NICE based on cost versus benefit.

NICE should assess drugs based on efficiency only and ignore cost. Let the doctors decide on the best treatment for their patients, prescribe accordingly, and let the bean counters (a favourite expression of mine) juggle the cost.

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