Tougher negotiations with pharmaceutical firms mean the NHS can now benefit from cheaper cancer drugs. This comes as a much-needed  relief to patients after the closure of the Cancer Drug Fund, worth £340 million per year.

In order for the NHS to provide a drug free of charge to the nation, it must first decide whether or not the cost of providing a drug is a good use of their funds. With limited resources, the NHS must be certain that every treatment they provide results in enough benefit to make it a worthwhile expense. The organisation responsible for making these decisions is the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence  (NICE).

Unfortunately, cancer drugs can be extremely expensive which is why some drugs do not get the approval needed from NICE to become available on the NHS. That’s where the Cancer Drug Fund would step in – it was a pot of money (£340 million per year) which could be spent on cancer drugs deemed too expensive for the NHS. Meaning that certain cancer patients could still get access to these medications.

However, with the closure of the fund, NICE is now re-assessing whether or not drugs supported by the fund can be transferred over to the NHS, The Guardian reported. To be able to make their drug available on the NHS, pharmaceutical companies have therefore slashed prices to make sure their drugs can be affordable.

So far, four drug manufacturers have cut their prices as a result of tougher negotiation by NICE. One example of this is the drug crizotinib,

One example of this is the drug crizotinib, made by Pfizer for people suffering from lung cancer. It used to cost the Cancer Fund £51,000 per patient per course of treatment. Now, thanks to negotiations by NICE, Pfizer has dropped the cost of the drug making it  affordable for the NHS. Other examples include bosutinib for chronic myeloid leukaemia, which was costing the fund £89,000 per patient per year. It has now dropped its price to a level that means it can be used by the NHS.

There’s also further evidence that NICE is getting tougher with pharmaceutical firms when they announced that two drugs previously supported by the fund will not be transferred over to the NHS because the drug companiies were not willing to drop their prices. Everolimus for breast cancer (made by Novartis as Afinitor) and ibrutinib for mantle cell lymphoma (made by Janssen as Imbruvica) were deemed not to be cost-effective.

In its early years, the Cancer Drug Fund was “pretty much accepting all comers”, said NICE chief executive, Sir Andrew Dillon. Some believed pharma companies did not always try very hard to keep their price down – and their cost-effectiveness high – because they could rely on the fund to pay the price they wanted.

The manufacturers, however, have not hid their anger. David Montgomery, Pfizer’s medical director of oncology, said the firm had been “forced” to offer a further discounted patient access scheme for crizotinib.

“It is not sustainable to ask companies to continuously drop the price for these medicines and it will affect our ability to make further medical progress if we do,” Montgomery added.