LONDON - The British government will allow certain innovative drugs to bypass its healthcare cost-effectiveness watchdog under plans announced by officials on Tuesday.
Currently, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has to rule that drugs are good value before they can be reimbursed by the state-run National Health Service.
But a plan put forward by science and health ministers Paul Drayson and Ara Darzi, under the banner of the UK's Office for Life Sciences, would allow some innovative new drugs to be used for a period of time without that level of scrutiny.
NICE will select the drugs that are to be eligible under a three-year fast-track access scheme, which has been allocated a budget of 25 million pounds ($41 million) for the year 2010/11.
The so-called Innovation Pass scheme was warmly welcomed by drugmakers and biotech companies, who have previously complained that NICE often acts as a roadblock to new drugs by delaying access to novel treatments for serious conditions like cancer.
The plan, which is subject to consultation up until November 2009, is one of a number of initiatives aimed at stimulating Britain's life science and technology sector.
Drayson said getting new drugs used early was important not only for patients but also for research into the next generation of treatments.
Unless we have the means by which the most innovative breakthrough medicines can be put into clinical practice then we miss the opportunity for those breakthrough medicines to present the gold standard for clinical trials for new medicines which are coming through in those areas, he told reporters.
Richard Barker, director general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said that the plans would deliver truly transformational change for the life sciences industry in the UK.
In June, the British government announced the launch of the UK Innovation Investment Fund which it hopes will raise up to 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) over the next decade for small companies in the digital, life science, clean technology and advanced manufacturing sectors.
Drayson said about a third of the funds would be available for life sciences and the first investment would be made before Christmas.
(Reporting by Ben Deighton; editing by Ben Hirschler and Elaine Hardcastle)