Mad at NICE's cancer drug rejections? Look to drugmakers, agency chief says

NICE CEO Sir Andrew Dillon

Political shilly-shallying about the cost of drugs has to end, the chief of the U.K.'s cost-effectiveness agency says. Government officials and politicians need to be up front with the public about one stark fact: The country's health service just can't afford every drug that can help patients.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Sir Andrew Dillon addressed a recent outcry over rejections for two costly cancer drugs: Roche's ($RHHBY) new breast cancer treatment Kadcyla, and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) prostate cancer pill Zytiga, which was up for a new, broader use. To the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), these decisions are part of the reality of National Health Service budget constraints, he said.

The NHS isn't "a bottomless pit," he told the FT, adding that tough choices are required to make sure its resources are allocated as fairly as possible. "[W]e shouldn't mislead ourselves into thinking that there is some world we will reach ... where everything that could conceivably make a difference to us, whatever its price, is going to be available," he said.

And as for the patient advocates and public health organizations decrying those choices? They need to think about pointing fingers elsewhere, Dillon said. If drugmakers priced their drugs more reasonably, they might win NICE backing.

"[W]hat we're looking at is an offer from a company and it's just as reasonable for people to question ... that offer as it is to question the reasonableness of the decision that NICE takes," Dillon told the FT.

Drugmakers have said that high prices are necessary to recoup R&D costs and encourage future innovation. Roche balked at NICE's choice against Kadcyla, saying that the agency's rejection shows that its system for evaluating drugs needs a major overhaul.

U.K. policymakers--and drugmakers seeking to sell their products in the country--are accustomed to seeing drugs rejected because of their cost. In the U.S., drugmakers have enjoyed years of pricing freedom. But cost-benefit questions are starting to arise in the U.S. as well, as payers exclude more drugs from their formularies and put up a fight over the cost of a new generation of hepatitis C drugs.

- read the FT story

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