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Doubts about funding for 'Innovation Pass'

Published on 10/08/09 at 11:24am

The new fast-tracking system announced to help accelerate uptake of innovative new treatments in the UK, could be held back by a lack of funds.

The Innovation Pass will allow new medicines and other technologies deemed to be sufficiently innovative to bypass NICE and go directly into use on the NHS. This is intended to provide 'real-world' data to build up and demonstrate cost effectiveness. After a period of three years, the medicine will then face the usual appraisal process.

The new 'Innovation Pass' - set out in the Office of Life Science's Blueprint - is to be piloted on a budget of £25 million, but this sum could only cover the annual cost of one new cancer treatment on the NHS.

The scheme is to be first piloted in 2010/2011, though what constitutes a successful pilot has yet to be decided. It has been indicated NICE will play a key role in developing and applying eligibility criteria for the pass, and is set to enter discussions with industry and the NHS.

Putting the £25m sum into perspective, Pfizer's Sutent - approved for kidney cancer in March - has been estimated to cost the NHS over £18m alone in its first year if given to all the patients eligible for it.

One senior figure at a leading pharma company told Pharmafocus he doubts the scheme will make much difference immediately or in the medium-term, even though he was involved with some of the ideas behind it.

He welcomed the move as a sign of greater government willingness to promote innovation, but says the £25m ring-fenced by government is likely to be too small to make a big impact, and that budgetary barriers to fund new treatments would still be in place.

The scheme is a core part of the Life Sciences Blueprint from the OLS, led by minister Lord Drayson, which was launched in July.

It seems to mark a shift in the balance of power between pharma and NICE in favour of the industry, giving companies a higher chance of seeing their new medicines established in the NHS.

But the funding around it remains small and more detail is still needed, so the significance of the plan is yet to be seen.

The director general of the ABPI Dr Richard Barker admitted the sums of money talked about were "modest".

NICE's Sir Michael Rawlins said the pass would be reserved for products where it is tricky to work out whether or not they are cost effective.

But there is uncertainty over what the £25m will be used for. The OLS said only that it is the budget 'to pilot the scheme', which could include costs over and above those of the actual medicines.

There is also a lack of clarity around whether the fund is a new separate budget or if it will come from the annual drugs spend - around £10 billion allocated through PCTs.

NICE said it is unlikely to come from PCT allocations and Dr Barker hinted it would be new money, though none of the sources Pharmafocus spoke to could confirm that.

The Innovation Pass will be consulted on and fleshed out this autumn, and it is unlikely any further clarity will come before then.

Related stories:

Blueprint to fast track innovative drugs and devices

July 14, 2009

NICE bypassed in radical innovation boost

July 16, 2009

Kennedy calls for overhaul of NICE processes

July 23, 2009

Kennedy and Drayson: parallel plans to boost UK's innovation agenda

Two new reports take aim at promoting innovation and re-focusing NICE's role

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