U.K. report says NICE drags its feet on drug approvals

The U.K.'s cost-effectiveness gatekeepers can't catch a break. Today, it announced that it had come to a deal to get a pricey new cancer drug onto the National Health Service formulary (more here). But along with those "we're pleased to be able to recommend" stories, British media are reporting on a study suggesting that U.K. patients twiddle their thumbs for up to 9 years as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence deliberates over new products.

The Office for Health Economics study found that it takes 5 years, on average, after launch for a new drug to win NICE approval. Researchers looked at nearly 300 treatments approved since 2000 to come to that conclusion. Drugs that can be assessed on their own get through the system faster--often within one year, the report said. It's those that undergo multiple technology appraisals--because they're part of a combination therapy--that take longer, the Telegraph reports. In 2010, for instance, the average delay for drugs approved after multiple appraisals was 10.2 years, the newspaper reports.

NICE disputes the numbers, saying that the calculations include drugs that had been on the market for several years before the agency came into being, skewing the results. "We don't recognize most of the conclusions reached by the Office for Health Economics report," an agency spokesperson said, adding that NICE aims to release its first draft guidance on new products within 6 months, and that over the years its appraisal time had "decreased dramatically."

Responding to the study, patient groups simply said NICE needs to get a move on when new products appear. "Whenever a new drug is available, NICE guidance should be issued as quickly as possible," an Alzheimer's Society representative told the Telegraph. Cancer Research UK's Heather Walker said: "There needs to be a balance between giving NICE enough time to make the right decisions and ensuring that drugs get to patients as soon as possible."

- read the Telegraph coverage