Is the U.K.'s cancer-drugs fund unfair?

Humans are hard-wired to spot inequities, evolutionary biologists tell us. So it was just a matter of time before patient advocates started complaining about the U.K.'s special fund for expensive cancer drugs. Other chronic diseases can be just as serious, so why should cancer patients get exclusive subsidies?

As InPharm reports, Multiple Sclerosis Society policy chief Laura Weir told conference-goers this week the U.K. government's ₤200 million ($320 million) cancer-drug fund is unfair to patients with other diseases. The fund subsidizes cancer treatments the National Health Service won't pay for, because they were rejected by cost-effectiveness watchdogs at the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Meanwhile, NICE has also nixed several of the newer MS treatments as too expensive, but there's no special funding for them.

NICE recently weighed the new oral MS treatment Gilenya, which drugmaker Novartis ($NVS) has priced at $30,000 in the U.K. It wasn't impressed with Novartis' efficacy data, so Gilenya got the boot. Novartis plans to appeal. In the meantime, U.K. MS patients can't get Gilenya from the NHS, and Weir said at least one NICE committee member wondered why cancer patients have an alternative, while MS patients don't.

"It is estimated that the Cancer Drugs Fund will displace ₤480 million from other patients in the NHS," Weir said at the conference (as quoted by InPharm). "[I]s this a fair use of resources to help drive forward the uptake of innovative medicines across other disease areas[?] I don't think so."

- read the InPharm coverage