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Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2005, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Fast-track drug appraisal
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The new system would halve drug appraisal times
The government's drugs watchdog is proposing more rapid appraisal of new medications for the NHS.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence develops guidance for the NHS once new drugs have been licensed, to help ensure equal access.

The process has been criticised in the past for being too slow, taking 14-16 months, which potentially denies patients urgently needed therapy.

The proposed fast-track system would halve appraisal times.


In some cases, NICE hopes to be able to issue guidance on drugs around the time that they launched onto the UK market.

Although it is not yet known how many drugs this might include, treatments that have the potential to increase life expectancy would be prioritised.

Some hospitals are cautious about using new licensed products until NICE has issued guidance.

We think these proposals can make a real difference
Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE

Charities argue this can mean that patients who might benefit from products are disadvantaged.

Some 64 treatments are currently under appraisal by NICE, a quarter of which are for cancer.

Cancer campaigners have said there are 23 cancer treatments subject to unacceptable delays.

One treatment Rituximab for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is subject to a three-year delay, while there has been a two-and-a-half-year delay for Cetuximab to treat colorectal cancer.

We will be discussing NICE's proposals...over the coming days before a decision is taken
A spokesman from the Department of Health

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said: "We have listened to what patients and healthcare professionals have told us about the need for timely advice on the use of new medicines, particularly for life-threatening conditions such as cancer.

"We have responded by proposing a new, streamlined process for single drugs, and we think these proposals can make a real difference."

A spokesman from the Department of Health said: "We welcome their recognition of the urgency required.

"However, it is vital that we properly assess what the full impact of NICE's proposals might be, for both patients and the NHS.

"To that end the Department of Health will be discussing NICE's proposals with the Institute over the coming days before a decision is taken on the best way forward.

"We fully appreciate the importance of this issue and Ministers have asked that discussions be completed within weeks."

A spokeswoman from Macmillan Cancer Relief said: "We welcome this move. Anything that means improvement for cancer patients is to be welcomed."

Joanne Rule, cheif executive of CancerBACUP, said: "Fast tracking is part of the answer but the Department of Health has to look at the whole process from licence to guidance.

"We want an expert group to look at every cancer drug within three months of its licence."

Breakthrough Breast Cancer said it hoped the proposed change might mean that drug Herceptin would be approved for treaetment of early breast cancer on the NHS soon.

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