U.K. Begins Cancer Drug Fund Amid Warning of Cash Shortfall

Britain today opened its Cancer Drugs Fund, set up to pay for new treatments not available in the state-funded health service, as specialist pharmacists warned it may have less than half the money needed to meet demand.

The coalition government says the 50 million-pound ($79 million) fund is an interim measure until a full fund is introduced in April. A British Oncology Pharmacy Association study last month estimated the cost of supplying the relevant drugs at between 85 million pounds and 119 million pounds.

Drugs that may be paid for by the fund include Avastin, Roche Holding AG’s top-selling advanced bowel cancer treatment, and Bayer AG’s Nexavar for liver cancer. Both drugs were rejected this year by the agency that advises the National Health Service on cost-effective treatments.

“My aim is to truly empower patients by giving them more control over their care and helping them access the clinically effective drugs that their doctors believe could improve their quality of life,” Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said in a statement. “I am working towards longer-term plans to change the way we pay for drugs so patients get better access.”

The Rarer Cancers Foundation, which campaigned for the fund, rejected the BOPA study, saying the money would be sufficient.

“We disagree with them completely,” Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the foundation, said in an interview. In any case, “50 million pounds is better than nothing,” he said.

The government hasn’t said how much money will be available for the Cancer Drugs Fund from next year. During the campaign for May’s election, Prime Minister David Cameron said the fund will be worth 200 million pounds a year. BOPA estimates demand may run to between 364 million pounds and 524 million pounds next year.

The BOPA report also raises questions about which drugs will be paid for by the fund. The Department of Health has offered no specific guidance, saying only that the money is intended for treatments currently unavailable to patients.

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