NHS patients to be offered unlicensed drug gamble

By Alex Stevenson

NHS patients could be given access to drugs which have not been fully developed under plans being unveiled by the government today.

The government's new early access proposals would open up new drugs to patients with no other option a year earlier than they would otherwise be made available.

Patients who are seriously ill and have no other hope of being treated or having their life extended are expected to benefit from the move.

"The most crucial, fundamental thing we’re doing is opening up the NHS to new ideas," the prime minister said.

"The end-game is for the NHS to be working hand-in-glove with industry as the fastest adopter of new ideas in the world, acting as a huge magnet to pull new innovations through, right along the food-chain – from the labs to the boardrooms to the hospital bed."

It can take up to 20 years for drugs to be fully developed until they are prescribed by the NHS. Under the proposals out today the government would open up 'cutting-edge drugs' up to one year earlier than usual.

Patients' decisions are to be informed by advice on the risks and benefits of using promising new drugs issued by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The medicines watchdog would issue recommendations on drugs which are not yet fully licensed, which could mean UK patients get access to them before anywhere else in the world.

The early access scheme forms part of a much larger series of announcements as the government launches its life sciences strategy.

A funding gap known as the 'valley of death' – the period between a drug or technology being developed and it becoming available on the market – is being addressed through the introduction of a £180 million biomedical catalyst fund.

Universities and small- and medium-sized enterprises will compete for the funding.

"We've got to change radically – the way we innovate, the way we collaborate, the way we open up the NHS," Mr Cameron added.

"The two reports we’re publishing today are testament to our ambition: not just to hang on in there with a significant foot-hold in the global market, but to take an even bigger share of that market in the years to come."