Warning over block on new medicines

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Progress towards treatments for cancer and other diseases will slow down if the health watchdog continues to “underestimate” the benefits of new medicines, according to a new report.

Experts at University College London’s School of Pharmacy said investment in research and new drugs will be undermined if the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) continues to declare so many drugs unaffordable.

The report, which was mainly funded by international pharmaceutical giants Bayer and Novartis, said Nice’s actions also appear to promote the increased use of medicines “off label” as a way of saving money. This means that doctors use a cheaper alternative to a specific medicine, even if it is not licensed for that condition.

While this is unlikely to have so far significantly harmed public health, it does “challenge the integrity of medicines licensing, and may threaten overall public interests in sustained innovation”, the report – Licensed to Cure? – said.

It added: “Nice should not become a serial instigator of new forms of unlicensed medicines use.”

Report author Professor David Taylor said: “Nice has some excellent work to its credit. Its success came in the wake of 20th century achievements, when Britain was at the forefront of pharmaceutical development. But that position is slipping away.”

Nice declined to comment.