Cancer Drugs — [Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:39 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of George Freeman George Freeman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 3:39 pm, 19th January 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend Pauline Latham on securing this debate and I thank her for the chance to discuss these important issues, which I know are important to various Members who cannot be here this afternoon. I thank colleagues of all parties who have spoken. It was particularly powerful to hear the personal perspective of my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, who is a cancer survivor. I pay tribute to the work of Myeloma UK, Cancer Research UK, Macmillan and the other charities that have done, and continue to do, so much work looking after patients and supporting policy and research. As colleagues know, I am passionate that charities should have a bigger role to play in policy making. I have opened the Department’s door and invited them to come to the top table.

Few families in the country are untouched by cancer, and I am no different. My father died of throat cancer when I was 19, 18 months after I had met him. My mother-in-law died of myeloid leukaemia a few years ago. The family, like so many families, had to watch her go from a wonderful and healthy, vibrant grandmother to a corpse in 12 to 15 months. It is a tragedy when it happens, but the truth is that our generation has lived through the most extraordinary advances in cancer. Certainly in my childhood it was a death sentence. One sat in the back of cars as a child and heard parents discussing in hushed tones that somebody had a cancer diagnosis, which meant they would die. Now that has changed: 2 million people live with cancer and it has become a treatable disease. In some areas, it has become a preventable disease. That is why it is such a pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds here. Many others in the country today work and live with cancer. It is a stunning tribute to the success of our life sciences sector and our academic and clinical scientists.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about Tina and Graham and their experience of cancer. We should always remember—I do every day—that at the heart of difficult policy decisions there are people living with the disease. As constituency MPs and parliamentarians we need to bring that personal perspective to policy making. Certainly as a Minister I try to do that. My hon. Friend highlighted the trauma experienced by patients who, at diagnosis, think they will be eligible for a drug but find they have been caught by the timing of the CDF review, which means that the drug is tantalisingly taken away from them. We can all sympathise with that. As in all Administrations, when change comes, somebody normally gets caught at the point of change and it is very difficult. My hon. Friend also made a powerful point about data being crucial, and I accept that we need to do better on data. I have picked out those comments, but we have had excellent comments from across the House.

I want to set the context before dealing with specific questions. In the past 20 or 30 years, we have seen incredible transformations in biomedical research and in our ability to develop new treatments and diagnostics. My own 15-year career in biomedical research saw us go from the early days of genetics to extraordinary abilities to drive diagnosis and personalised therapy. One looks at Herceptin for breast cancer, a genomic biomarker theranostic partner drug. We have guaranteed that it works in patients who have that genetic biomarker. This is the future: much more genomic targeting of drugs. Genomics and informatics are transforming the way in which drugs are developed.

I arrived in the House of Commons six years ago. As a Government adviser on life sciences, I supported the Prime Minister in putting a life sciences strategy in place that built on the previous Government’s good work. We set out an ambition for the NHS to become not only a passive recipient of new therapies, but an active partner in the development of them, making available our genomic and informatics leadership and our clinical research, which is at the heart of the life sciences strategy: two cylinders pumping together, with the NHS not as a purchaser but as a partner in development.

Although we have had phenomenal revolutions in genomics and informatics and in the pace of discovery—pioneered in cancer, which is why cancer has led with this pressure on our funding mechanisms—it gives rise to great challenges: rising costs of treatment; ever more expensive drugs; smaller patient catchments, which puts a coach and horses through the traditional model of reimbursement; and the end of a one-size-fits-all blockbuster model of drug discovery, which is what NICE was originally set up to deal with. Those are very big challenges and I am putting policy responses in place. However, they are also big opportunities. As the world’s only integrated comprehensive healthcare system, nowhere is better equipped in the world to unleash the power of genomics and informatics for public good. I believe Nye Bevan would be banging the table today and saying, “The NHS was about the collective use of our health assets to prevent disease. Come on! Let’s harness the extraordinary ability of our NHS,” which is what we are doing.

As we reform the way in which NICE works, there is an opportunity for us to take the lead in the development of these new drugs and new specialised therapies, and to pioneer new models of reimbursement as well. It will not happen overnight—that is the honest truth—but it will happen over the next few years. That is why we have set out a 10-year strategy, and I am absolutely honoured and privileged to be at the beginning of a five-year Parliament as the Minister for Life Sciences with a chance to drive the reforms through. That is at the heart of the accelerated access review that I have launched, which I will talk about in a moment.

I urge everyone to recognise that the Government are not complacent. We have put £250 million extra into Genomics England. We are the first country on earth to do, at scale, full genome sequencing in cancer and rare diseases. Rare cancers are particularly well served. We have led on data and informatics for research in the NHS, often at a high political price, but it is essential if we are to drive this forward. We have set up the precision medicine catapult, the cell therapy catapult and the £700 million Crick Institute. We have protected, increased and ring-fenced science budget increases. We have announced and secured a multi-billion pound drugs budget, and more will be announced shortly. We have set up the rare diseases consortium, the accelerated access review, the early access to medicines scheme and a £1.2 billion commitment to the Cancer Drugs Fund, so I hope colleagues will acknowledge, as some have, that we are serious about trying to both invest and reform this space.

The Cancer Drugs Fund was set up with strong leadership from the Prime Minister. Because of the progress in cancer putting pressure on NICE’s systems, NICE’s clinically led, world class, independent advice rejected many of the new cancer therapies that did not fit well with its scoring system, so the Prime Minster said that we must make the money available to make sure cancer patients do not suffer while we reform the system. The fund is now £1.2 billion; another £340 million was invested this year. Some 84,000 people have received life-extending drugs that they would not otherwise have got.