U.K. lawmakers vow to buy more cancer meds

Conservative politicians in the U.K. are promising to get more cancer drugs to patients. "We've got to arrive at a point where people who have a cancer, who know there is a new cancer medicine that sometimes is clearly shown to extend life or improve the quality of life, that those drugs are going to be available on the NHS," says Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

Sounds good for pharma. The many recent cancer-drug rejections from Britain's cost-effectiveness watchdog haven't just angered patients, but limited drugmakers' abilities to sell their wares.

But that political promise has a spiky tail. Yes, the conservatives would like to make more drugs available--it's just that one of the ways they'd like to do so would exact a toll on pharma. "One of the proposals we're making is that the authorities ought to be looking at the relationship between the NHS and drugs companies," Conservative party leader David Cameron says. "The NHS has to use its buying powers."

In other words, negotiate prices downward. And for anyone who's been watching cancer drugs make their way through NICE's reviews knows that the agency has already been pretty tough on prices. Some drugs haven't been adopted because NICE thinks they're too costly for the benefits they provide--and some of those that have been chosen were only picked after their makers came to NICE with a cost-sharing or cost-cutting pitch. Sounds to us like the politicians aren't as intent on improving care as they are on casting pharma as the bad guy.

- read the Times story
- get more from the BBC