A victory for one patient but thousands of others lose out

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Although Barbara Clark won her personal battle to be treated for breast cancer with Herceptin, two reports have revealed that Britain languishes at the bottom of the European league when it comes to gaining access to new cancer treatments.

An investigation into the provision of new cancer drugs in 19 countries in Europe ranks the UK along with Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Norway as the slowest to introduce new drugs.

Austria, Spain and Switzerland came top of the European league with the highest use of new cancer drug therapies made available between 1999 and 2004.

The report, from the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden, a copy of which has been seen by The Independent, singles out the UK for criticism. The report goes to the European Parliament tomorrow.

"Our analysis indicates that there are imbalances and inequities in the ability of cancer patients to access cancer drugs in Europe, with access varying according to the country of residence. There are large differences between countries with regard to the level of uptake and the time period over which cancer drugs become available," it says.

The researchers analysed sales data for 2004 for 56 cancer drugs in the 19 countries surveyed. The UK was at the bottom for sales of capecitabine (Xeloda) for bowel cancer, rituximab (Mabthera) for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and trastuzumab (Herceptin) for breast cancer.

"It is interesting to note that the UK ranks as the number one country in the amount of direct cancer research funding. Yet this report illustrates that the UK lags behind other EU countries in terms of the ability of cancer patients to access new cancer drugs," the report says.

The Karolinska Institute report, which is funded by the pharmaceutical company Roche, comes two weeks after the British cancer charity CancerBacup published a dossier of 23 treatments which have been licensed for use in Britain but which have been denied to patients because of bureaucratic delays.

The list includes drugs such as Arimidex a treatment for early breast cancer in post-menopausal women. It was recommended for use by the Scottish Medicines Consortium but the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence which controls its use in England is not due to rule on it until late next year.

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