100,000 patients receive early access to latest cancer therapies on NHS

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Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director.

Almost one hundred thousand cancer patients have now benefitted from early access to the latest and most innovative treatments, thanks to the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund.

The NHS is set to hit a major milestone in April with 100,000 cancer patients benefitting from faster access to more than 100 drugs (in over 250 indications) through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), to help improve, extend or – in some cases – save their lives.

The CDF, which opened in its current form in July 2016, is used by NHS England to provide fast-tracked access for patients to all new cancer treatments approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), in addition to gathering further evidence of long-term effectiveness for promising drugs.

Earlier this month, new immunotherapy dostarlimab was one of the latest drugs to be fast-tracked for patients through the CDF, offering hundreds of women with advanced endometrial cancer the hope of significant extra time before their disease progresses.

The Fund benefits people with common cancers, such as breast, lung, colorectal and prostate, as well as those with less common cancers, such as ovarian, cervical, kidney, skin, myeloma, lymphoma and leukaemia, and rare cancers, including thyroid and biliary tract.

Patients benefit from new cancer drugs nearly six months faster under the current CDF, and all cancer treatments, including those for routine commissioning, are now funded for patients to be prescribed as soon as a positive recommendation is made by NICE.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: 

“Treating 100,000 cancer patients in England with innovative treatments through the Cancer Drugs Fund is a fantastic milestone for the health service to reach, and testament to the hard work of oncologists and their teams across the country.

“This vital Fund is helping ensure patients get access to the most promising drugs far quicker than would otherwise be the case, helping people with cancer like Yuvan receive a life-changing intervention that sets a path for a longer, healthier life spent with family and friends”.

Sixteen-year-old Yuvan Thakkar, from Watford, was the first child in the UK to benefit from a pioneering CAR T therapy called tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah), thanks to NHS England’s Cancer Drugs Fund.

Yuvan received the treatment – which modifies a person’s immune cells to recognise and attack cancer cells – in early 2019 at Great Ormond Street Hospital when he was 11 years old, after he relapsed following other treatments, including chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He is now preparing for his GCSEs this summer.

Yuvan’s mother, Sapna Thakkar, 45, said: “Our whole family feels like we have received a second chance at life since the success of his treatment.

“It felt like our prayers were finally answered. We still feel so grateful for this chance that’s been given to us and not a single day passes by when we haven’t felt thankful for all the doctors and nurses that have helped us through this long and difficult journey.”

Without the fast-track access available through the CDF, Sapna said there may have been no other way for Yuvan to receive the life-saving treatment.

She said: “Having the funds to treat people like Yuvan, who really need it, is literally a life saver. We soon realised that no matter how hard we tried, we would not have been able to fund his treatment on our own. During his treatment we were only hoping that his suffering would reduce, and he would get to enjoy his childhood. Lots has changed now, Yuvan is doing really well in school and enjoying time with family and friends. We’re so grateful for every moment.”

Yuvan said: “My life has changed so much since I received the CAR T therapy.

“I remember I had to take so many trips to hospital and had long periods out of school. I am extremely grateful to GOSH for providing me with such incredible healthcare throughout my stay. They have helped me recover to a state where I am able to enjoy so many things I love doing, such as playing snooker or pool, meeting friends and family, and going on wonderful holidays. It’s hard to imagine how things would have been if the treatment wasn’t available.”

Since it was established in 2016, 58 innovative treatments have been funded on the CDF while further evidence has been gathered about their long-term benefits. 33 treatments have since been reappraised, with 28 now routinely commissioned on the NHS.

John Stewart, National Director for Specialised Commissioning, NHS England, said: “This huge milestone demonstrates the incredible progress of the Cancer Drugs Fund to date for patients, providing earlier access to innovative and cost-effective cancer treatments.

“Today’s milestone figure is a major achievement and underlines that through the past eight years, including some of the most challenging times in the history of the health service, NHS staff have always embraced exciting breakthrough medicines to provide their patients with the very best care and treatment”.

The current CDF budget of £340 million is 70% more than the previous CDF and is used alongside NHS England’s Innovative Medicines Fund of £340 million, meaning that the health service has a total of £680 million ringfenced funding for fast tracking new medicines.

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “I want NHS patients to benefit from cutting edge treatments and pioneering new medicines for cancer that may not otherwise have been available to them – delivering on our commitment to make access to healthcare faster, simpler and fairer.

“This is a huge milestone and demonstrates the success of the Cancer Drugs Fund in fast-tracking patient access to groundbreaking new cancer treatments whilst allowing us to gather further real-world evidence on their effectiveness.”

Some of the latest treatments which have been funded through the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund include:

  • Olaparib for breast cancer and prostate cancer – two of the most common cancers – in April 2023
  • A new immunotherapy – Dostarlimab – for advanced womb cancer in March 2024
  • A potentially curative treatment – Glofitamab – for an aggressive type of blood cancer, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, in October 2023
  • CAR-T cancer therapies for two forms of blood cancer – Tecartus and Yescarta – in April 2023
  • Pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy for advanced cervical cancer, was made available in March 2023, becoming the first new life-extending treatment for incurable cervical cancer in almost fifteen years.

Sure: NHS / Public Health England

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