Roche CEO slams 'stupid,' 'arbitrary' UK decision to cut 17 cancer meds' funding
- The U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) will be axing 17 oncology medications which cover 25 different cancer-related indications in an effort to contain costs.
- The problem is that the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), a special agency which is supposed to cover cancer drugs, is overspent, according to officials. The decision is drawing the wrath of patient advocacy groups and affected pharmaceutical companies, including Roche and its CEO.
- Earlier this year, the NHS said that it was withdrawing funding for 25 drugs. It ended up cutting 19 drugs off of the list of covered therapies. Now more drugs are being added to the NHS' 'not covered' list.
The latest announcement regarding the need to decrease spending by removing cancer drugs from the NHS's approved formulary of covered drugs has evoked anger among many physicians, patients, and advocacy groups in the U.K.—not to mention the ire of the biopharma industry. The CDF was supposed to be a fall-back option when NHS refused to cover treatments. But now that the CDF is overspent, there's nothing to do except remove certain drugs, officials argue.
"There is no escaping the fact that we face a difficult set of choices, but it is our duty to ensure we get maximum value from every penny available on behalf of patients," said Dr. Peter Clark, an oncologist and chair of the CDF, in a statement. "We must ensure we invest in those treatments that offer the most benefit, based on rigorous evidence-based clinical analysis and an assessment of the cost of those treatments."
Some of the drugs that are on the chopping block include Celgene's Revlimid and Imnovid, both used to treat multiple myeloma; Roche/Genentech's Kadcyla and Avastin, both for breast cancer; and Celgene's Abraxane for treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer—the only new treatment in the last 17 years. These drugs may continue to be covered for certain indications, but not others. All told, these cuts will affect patients with many different types of cancer, including breast, bowel, pancreatic, and skin cancers.
In addition to pushback from patient-advocacy groups, such as Breast Cancer Now, pharmaceutical companies are expressing their dismay over the decision. Roche's CEO, Severin Schwan, even went as far as calling the decision "stupid."
"There is a fundamental flaw in how the U.K. operates when it comes to pricing for medicines," Schwan told reporters. "If everybody would do what the U.K. does, a medicine would never launch in the whole world.
"This is a mess and it needs to be fixed quickly," he added. "How the hell can you ignore all these [drugs'] benefits?"
While patients will suffer once the targeted drugs are delisted, those who support the NHS' decision are blaming pharmaceutical companies for budget-busing, high prices. If history is any guide, there is a chance that some of the drugs may withstand the cuts.