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A report published in May 2007 (and which I have just seen) highlights the inequalities in Europe's treatment of cancer patients and provides a detailed overview of how cancer patients in some countries receive treatment with new drug therapies while those elsewhere do not.

The report shows the UK has the lowest take-up rate of new cancer drugs in Europe;[1] it also has the lowest cancer survival rates.[2] In France, Spain, Germany and Italy more than 50% of patients are receiving treatment with drugs launched since 1985; the UK figure is 40%. Co-authors N. Wilking and B. Jonsson single out the National Institute for Clinical Excellence for critical attention:

"Nowhere in Europe is the decision role played by economic evaluations more evident than in the UK, where the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) issues guidance for England, and the All Wales Medicine Strategy Group (AWMSG) and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) issued guidance for Wales and Scotland respectively..

(there is) an issue with NICE's capacity to cope with the growing workload of evaluation and undertake new reviews. The time for a product to be referred to NICE can be up to 18 months and this is prior to the beginning of any review. The actual timeline of a NICE review is 62 weeks while it is 3 months for the SMC."

The authors' point out the irony of the current situation in which "the UK ranks as the number one country in the amount of direct cancer research funding, with the charitable sector contributing more than the government in research funding. Yet this report illustrates that the UK lags behind other EU countries in terms of the ability of cancer patients to access new cancer drugs."

This research was conducted by two Swedish experts from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the Center for Health Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics; it was funded by Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer.

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