Improving patients’ lives with affordable cancer drugs


People are living longer with multiple morbidities and healthcare demand is growing around the globe. The miracles of modern cancer survival rates come at a price in both financial burden and logistical pressures across healthcare systems.

Cancer accounted for 9.5 million deaths worldwide in 2018 and that figure is predicted to rise to 12 million by 2020.

The cost of cancer treatment is expected to grow by 10 to 13 per cent between 2018 and 2022, compromising access to affordable, effective therapies for patients and heaping intolerable strain on national budgets.

Patient outcomes have been revolutionised by blockbuster drugs and biologics, but novel discovery is slowing down, requiring the medical, scientific and healthcare regulatory systems to look to new ways of delivering life-enhancing care.

A critical benefit is being provided by generic medicines, lower-cost versions of patent-expired drugs, and biosimiliars that replicate the impact of game-changing biologics at a fraction of the price. This is being combined with dynamic innovation across the life cycle of a drug that is creating products that make medical regimens easier for patients to take and adhere to while easing the strain on healthcare.

“There are great challenges ahead, particularly in oncology with the exponential growth in demand. But there is the drive and ingenuity to tackle them so patients get the medication and support they need,” says Paul Tredwell, vice president of speciality brands at UK-based Accord Healthcare, Europe’s largest provider of oncological chemotherapy drugs.

“Healthcare has made amazing advances in producing game-changing drugs over the last 20 years, but the issue we have is that the median cost of a new oncology drug has risen from around £60,000 a year in 2013 to £115,00 a year in 2017.

“We have revolutionised outcomes for patients, but healthcare spending is increasing which is a tough challenge. We have to balance the best patient outcomes with access to affordable, high-quality medicine which is where companies like Accord come in.

“So, we have to think differently and apply ourselves to every aspect of medical delivery. We need affordable drugs and we need to be patient focused so it is easier for patients to take them and get the benefits.

“Patients are more interested and involved in their care than ever before and this provides an opportunity to connect with them, understand what they need and make sure they get it.”

Accord, which has invested more than £150 million in skilled staffing of production lines and equipping state-of-the-art facilities in the UK since 2017, stands at the fulcrum of clinical delivery with its role of manufacturing affordable drugs and connecting hospitals, pharmacists, wholesalers and other frontline healthcare providers.

It has a pipeline of innovative molecules, repurposed drugs and delivery systems, such as injectable devices and packaging.

We have revolutionised outcomes for patients, but healthcare spending is increasing which is a tough challenge

The importance of generic medicines was highlighted by the vital role they have played supporting healthcare systems and cancer patients during the pandemic, demonstrating clearly that they are a significant part of the healthcare future.

Generics are sold at about 15 per cent of the originator price, while biosimilars are around 30 per cent cheaper. The NHS announced that it had saved more than £700 million from its annual medicines bill in 2019 by switching to generic and best-value biologic treatments, including a £100-million saving from one drug that had expired its patent.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, commented: “We will continue to drive changes to ensure every NHS pound is spent wisely and patients have access to innovative life-changing medicines.

“Use of the best value versions of expensive medicines is already delivering effective treatment for patients across the NHS, including those with cancer, offering the right care for patients while saving the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Allied to those huge savings is the ability to adapt biosimilars to achieve incremental improvements and wider access to create a progressive framework with affordable mechanisms rather than big-budget changes.

“Biosimilars and generics help by lowering the cost of treatments and, therefore, improving access for more patients and by freeing up funds for research into new oncology treatments,” says Accord’s Tredwell. “The savings provided by biosimilars will be significant to European healthcare economies over the next five years, potentially up to a further £1.4billion, according to a recent study.

“But it’s about much more than the cost. It’s about the positive impact on the patient. Its about the product and the delivery system and, since the introduction of biosimilars, we have seen an increase in the diversity of delivery devices and storage capabilities that is helping meet patient demand.

“At Accord, our mantra is to drive the best outcomes for patients which could involve changing the pharmacokinetic properties to create longer acting versions and improve how long you can leave medicines out of the fridge and whether it needs to be in the fridge at all. We have also designed user-friendly injectable systems for ease of use. These things are important to the patient as well as the healthcare system.”

COVID-19 restrictions meant immune-compromised patients needed to take a more hands-on approach in their care, which saw a rise in patient-administered therapies and could help shift more care away from expensive hospital and clinical settings.

A move to greater patient involvement in care, home monitoring and self-administration is a trend that is being hailed as a potential healthcare saviour as it can improve compliance and de-stress hospital waiting lists. The use of digital support and transferring treatments safely to at-home settings is a key element of NHS long-term planning.

“We see patient empowerment as critical to the future of healthcare,” adds Tredwell. “Accord is an agile company that has grown its UK operation from less than 50 staff in 2010 to more than 1,200 across its sites at Barnstaple in Devon, Didcot in Oxfordshire and Fawdon in Tyne and Wear, an empty 22-acre site that has been regenerated over the last two years, as well as its headquarters and laboratories based at Harrow, Middlesex. It has established a strong base for export into Europe and now employs an additional 600-strong staff base across the region.

It’s goal of becoming a top-five pan-European generics and biosimilars company by 2021 is strengthened by a novel pipeline with several products in phase-III trials across its areas of clinical focus in oncology, autoimmune conditions, central nervous system and critical care.

“We are committed to launching new medical products, but we are also in tune with the paradigm shift of patients becoming more empowered and seeking to learn about their treatments, which has been amplified during the pandemic,” says Tredwell. “We are developing digital education routes for both patients and healthcare professionals.

“We are co-developing a new platform with senior oncology partners to support patients along their chemotherapy and radiotherapy journey as we believe patients will have more positive outcomes if they understand the therapies they are receiving, why they are getting them and how to manage any side effects.

“Our driving force is not just about providing treatments; as the market leaders in Europe of oncological chemotherapy drugs, we have a responsibility to improve patients’ lives.”

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