NHS prepares to fast-track ‘game changing’ cancer drugs that target genetic mutations

The NHS is preparing to fast-track the introduction of ‘game changing’ new cancer drugs that target tumours according to their genetic make-up rather than where they originate in the body, Simon Stevens will announce today.

The revolutionary treatments – known as ‘tumour agnostic’ drugs – can be used against a wide range of cancers and could offer hope to patients with rare forms of the disease that may previously have been untreatable.

Extensive preparation by the NHS meant that patients in England were among the first in the world to benefit from genetically modified CAR-T cancer therapy.

Speaking to health leaders in Manchester, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens will say that the health service must be ready to fast-track tumour agnostic drugs in the same way.

The first of the new cancer drugs, which target genetic mutations that accelerate the growth of many types of tumours and have particular benefits for children, are set to come on to the market within months.

With such treatments, testing the tumour’s genes or other molecular features assists in deciding which treatments may be best for an individual with cancer, regardless of where the cancer is located or how it looks under the microscope.

Molecular testing therefore becomes a first and essential element of treatment planning.

Speaking at the Confed19 event Simon Stevens is expected to say: “This exciting new breakthrough in cancer treatment is the latest example of how the NHS can lead the way in the new era of personalised cancer care.”

“The benefits for patients, in particular children, of being able to treat many different types of cancers with one drug is potentially huge, helping them to lead longer, healthier lives.”

“NHS patients in England were at the forefront of the CAR-T revolution and I want to make sure that they are also among the first in the world to benefit from these treatments.”

“Preparations are underway to make sure the NHS can adopt these next generation of treatments, but manufacturers need to set fair and affordable prices so treatments can be made available to those who need them.”

The Accelerated Access Collaborative – established by the Government as part of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy to speed up the adoption and uptake of innovative new treatments – will meet next week to discuss how they can support implementation.

Lord Darzi, Chair of the Accelerated Access Collaborative, said: “Today’s announcement is further evidence that the NHS is open for business and is both willing and able to embrace innovative new treatments at pace. The advent of tumour agnostic drugs marks an important next step in the development of personalised, genomic driven medicine and these plans will be warmly welcomed by patients and the clinical community.”

Two of the first candidate drugs are expected to be licenced later this year, and if priced responsibly, could be approved by NICE soon after.

The drugs target tumours with a genetic variation which accelerates growth and children are expected to be among the first to benefit.

Both drugs target tumours with the genetic variation known as neurotropic tyrosine receptor kinase, or NTRK, which accelerates growth.

NTRK is more commonly found in rare cancers affecting children and adults (e.g. salivary tumours, secretory breast cancer, infantile fibrosarcoma, congenital mesoblastic nephroma) but also in low levels in more common cancers. Both drugs are due to receive their EU market authorisations within the next 12 months.

The drugs work by blocking the NTRK enzyme, effectively shrinking the tumour. Early clinical trials showed the tumour responded in two thirds to three quarters of the cancers tested.

For some cancers, NTRK testing will be performed using testing as identified in the National Genomic Test Directory.

The introduction of a new NHS Genomic Medicine Service is expected to provide the vital infrastructure for ensuring access to cutting-edge genomic technologies to enable patients who will benefit most from these targeted and personalised medicines to be identified, and treated, quicker.

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research, Policy and Support at Bloodwise said: “Tumour agnostic treatments hold real potential to deliver kinder targeted treatments to people with rare blood cancers, including children, where evidence of the effectiveness of drugs can be built up more quickly in trials of people with different types of cancer.

“We welcome this further example of NHS innovation and look  forward to working with NHS England to ensure that these and other advances, as well as whole genome sequencing, translate into better diagnosis and better outcomes for everyone with blood cancer in the future.”