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January 1, 2014

Careful Use of Science to Advance the Debate on the UK Cancer Drugs Fund

Author Affiliations
  • 1Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • 2Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 3Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • 4National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2014;311(1):25-26. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.282839

Debate continues over the recent renewal of the UK Cancer Drugs Fund. The fund sets aside money for the National Health Service (NHS) to pay for expensive oncology medications that have not been recommended for coverage. In the United Kingdom, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) assesses the cost-effectiveness of new therapies and recommends how the NHS should allocate its fixed budget. Since 2010, a total of £1 billion (≈$1.62 billion) has been invested in the fund, which was designed to assuage public concerns over NICE recommendations that blocked or delayed access to some new cancer drugs. The latest investment of £400 million (≈$648 million) means that current and new patients being treated with expensive oncology therapies covered by the fund can draw from it until March 2016. Although drug makers and cancer patient advocacy groups see this as a victory, some health policy researchers and analysts believe that the special cancer fund lacks coherence and fails to support evidence-based decision making.1 The debate over the Cancer Drugs Fund provides an opportunity to reconsider competing issues surrounding the allocation of health care dollars at the end of life.

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