• Stephen Whitehead

    Posted in category Opinion by Stephen Whitehead on 12/05/2014

    Improvement in kidney cancer survival rates highlights the importance of developing new medicines

Public Health England’s National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) recently published their ‘Kidney Cancer Survival Report’, which shows that kidney cancer survival has improved in the last 20 years (1).


This is a welcome success story that arrives alongside the news that fifty per cent of people diagnosed with cancer today will survive their disease for at least 10 years.

These improved survival rates are due to a combination of factors: improved public awareness, earlier diagnosis, better access to radiotherapy and improved surgical techniques and greater availability of new innovative cancer medicines. There is no doubt that the medicines developed by the pharmaceutical industry have helped change the landscape through their ability to treat very difficult and complex diseases, such as cancer.

Despite this, medicines are often seen as costly and the value they bring is not fully recognised. This topic was prevalent in the news recently, following the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) review of a new breast cancer medicine, which recommended that the cost of this medicine outweighed the value. I took this opportunity to participate in some media interviews around the cost-effectiveness of medicines and the new Pharmaceutical Pricing Regulation Scheme (PPRS). I highlighted the mechanisms of the PPRS, which sees the pharmaceutical industry making payments to underwrite all expenditure above agreed growth levels in the UK medicines bill for five years. I also reiterated my view that the scheme provides a game-changing and transformative opportunity for NICE to look differently at how new medicines are approved so that more patients can get access to innovative medicines. The ABPI will continue to work closely with the Department of Health, NHS England and NICE to achieve this.

However, it must be recognised that it can take up to 12 years and cost up to £1.2 billion to develop each of these new medicines. For every one that is successful, there are thousands that fail and this, as well as other considerations, such as therapeutic value, competition, patent status and anticipated volumes, has to be taken into account when making pricing decisions. Much of the money recouped by the pharmaceutical industry is reinvested back into the research and development of new medicines, which will benefit future NHS patients, their families and carers.

If we want to continue to improve cancer survival rates, achieving outcomes comparable with the best in the world, we need to ensure patients have even greater access to these new innovative medicines. This way, we’ll see more of the positive headlines and reports we want and less of the grim statistics too often associated with cancer.

Stephen Whitehead
ABPI Chief Executive


  1. NCIN’s ‘Kidney Cancer Survival Report’ is available upon request. Telephone 020 7654 8400 or email phe-pressoffice@phe.gov.uk.
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