NICE to be sidelined, minister confirms

The U.K.'s cost-effectiveness watchdog NICE will soon be nicer, at least to drugmakers. That's the word from Health Minister Lord Howe, in confirmation of an earlier proposal from the country's new coalition government. The agency, which now gives a yea or nay to the cost-effectiveness of each new drug, will be sidelined into an "advisory" role. Which means the National Health Service, once obligated to follow its advice, will be able to take it--or not.

Gradually, Howe said at an industry conference, the agency will shift its focus from evaluating specific products to establishing overall quality standards. NICE's work will still be "very, very important," he said, but it won't be the last word on treatments and price.

Instead, the U.K. will be moving to a so-called "value-based pricing system." No one knows yet how this VBP will work--least of all how "value" will be defined--but officials have three years to hammer out a new approach. That's because the current pricing agreement with pharma--known as the PPRS--will remain in force until it expires in 2013, Howe said.

The changes at NICE are part of a wholesale overhaul of the NHS, which will diffuse power to local physicians' groups. No one seems to know exactly how this will work either, but we'll keep you posted.

- read the InPharm story