NICE’s ongoing review of the Cancer Drugs Fund has reached its halfway point, with the total of cancer drugs so far made available for routine NHS use reaching 14. 

Established in 2010, the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) was intended as a temporary solution to granting patients access to new medicines with high price tags which were unable to be funded directly through the NHS.

In its first year, the Fund exceeded its £200 million budget and has since continued to do so year-on-year. The CDF now stands at a fixed £340 million.

In 2016, NICE was tasked with reviewing the CDF to make room for some of the newer cancer drugs on the market by removing older, so-called ‘legacy’ drugs.

A total of 24 medicines is to be reviewed – 14 of which have now been approved thanks to price cuts, and in some instances new evidence, from pharmaceutical manufacturers. None of the 24 have so far been rejected.

The new total comes after Thursday’s draft guidance recommendations of both Merck’s Erbitux (cetuximab) and Amgen’s Vectibix (panitumumab) in first-line metastatic bowel cancer treatments.

New evidence supporting each drug’s use in bowel cancer, along with discounted prices were behind the recommendations.

“The system is working well,” said Sir Andrew Dillion, chief executive at NICE. “Companies are cooperating well with our reviews and the good news for patients is that more cancer drugs than ever are being recommended for routine use.

“As drugs move off the CDF, we free up funding for new drugs coming down the pipeline, so patients will have faster access to promising cancer drugs and the NHS makes the most of its resources.”

Although Dillon remains upbeat over the system’s effect, some are sceptical over what it means for drug pricing as a whole. “Even with these discounts, there are fundamental problems with the way cancer drugs are priced,” commented Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research. “We need to make sure drugs are priced at a level that makes cancer treatments affordable for the NHS, rather than companies pricing drugs at what the market can bear.”

Final guidance for both Erbitux and Vectibix is expected in April.