Is the NHS ready for medicines of the future? – part II

3 October 2017

Prostate Cancer UK aims to tame prostate cancer in 10 years. This requires a substantial increase in the proportion of men diagnosed early. But it also needs diagnosis to be accurate, capable of catching the aggressive cancers and identifying the molecular drivers of each man’s disease , so that they can be matched to the treatment best suited to stopping it.

Things are moving fast in the world of prostate cancer and there is good reason to be optimistic that the changes we need in both diagnosis and treatment are achievable. We are investing millions in research to support it. Yet we regularly question whether the NHS is ready for the future that is our vision. There is plenty of ambition in the NHS, alongside a requirement for cost-effectiveness and equity which has our absolute support. But given the kind of advances that will make the difference that is needed, there must also be flexibility.

More flexibility and greater personalisation of care can lead to higher efficiency, greater cost-effectiveness and, most importantly, to men having longer, higher quality lives. It is wasteful of both money and men’s precious time for them to be put through successive rounds of treatments if they will not work for them – particularly when they often incur very unpleasant side effects. Both the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry want these targeted approaches too, but there are barriers that make it difficult to get there.

With new precision medicines for prostate cancer just around the corner, we must overcome these barriers. Our appraisal and commissioning system must enable rapid patient access so we can learn more about the potential of new treatments for each variation of a tumour type. Achieving this will need flexible pricing schemes informed by clinical data that moderates what the NHS pays, so our systems for collecting and using real world data need to be up to the challenge. And commissioning decisions have to be made within the wider context of emerging medical research, looking ahead to see what is changing and what the opportunities are rather than always playing catch up.

The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy recognises the exciting opportunities which will help make these ambitions real, including getting to grips with the critical challenge of data – so we want to see the strategy realised. Matched with advances in genomics and diagnostics, the world of one size fits all must transform to a more flexible approach. Getting there will mean a more effective use of our precious public resources, and a brighter future not just for men with prostate cancer but for millions of others too.

Heather Blake, Director of Support and Influencing, Prostate Cancer UK

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