Announcements on Faster Access to New Treatments

Peter Russell

May 03, 2019

The Government said it was making improvements to the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) to assist bringing pioneering treatments, diagnostic tools, and digital services into use.

Under the scheme, set up in 2018, a number of products each year would receive 'breakthrough' designation to enable a fast-track route through the NHS's approval processes in England.

This week the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the AAC would become the new umbrella organisation for UK health innovation, acting as a 'front door' for innovators to get their products funded by the NHS and helping them overcome barriers that could prevent their products reaching patients.

The change would involve establishing a new unit in NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Lord David Prior, chair of NHS England, said: "Our ambition is very clear: the NHS will be the most innovative health care system in the world with much easier access and much quicker uptake of new and innovative products.

"This applies to therapeutics, diagnostics, digital devices, and our whole supply chain.

"It is a top priority for the NHS."

The announcement was made on Thursday at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) conference, where health minister Nicola Blackwood said it could often "take too long for products to get from the bench to the bedside".

Mike Thompson, chief executive officer of the ABPI, commented: "This is a real step forward in making sure UK patients get the latest breakthrough treatments.

"It sends a clear message that the UK intends to build an innovation-led economy alongside a more productive, innovation-ready NHS."

Help for New Health Technologies

An online resource to help identify and support new health technologies from inception to adoption in the UK health and care system was formally launched this week.

HealthTech Connect was designed for medical devices and diagnostic and digital health technologies that:

  • Offer measurable benefits to patients (or other health and care service users) compared with those already offered by current routine practice in the UK

  • Provide measurable benefits to the UK health and care system compared to those already offered by current routine practice in the UK

The free-to-use system was developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and a range of partner organisations with funding from NHS England.

More than 100 companies have registered to use HealthTech Connect since its 'soft launch' earlier this year.

Meindert Boysen, director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at NICE commented: "Ultimately, the aim of HealthTech Connect is to help get promising new health technologies to the people who will benefit from them, faster.

"We expect it to contribute to reducing the complexity, and often duplication, involved in getting medical devices, diagnostics, and digital health technologies adopted in the UK."

NHS Broadband Upgrades

Plans to upgrade every hospital, GP practice, and community care service in England to fibre broadband were announced this week.

The DHSC said faster and more reliable connections were needed for video consultations and sharing high-definition images speedily.

It said 40% of NHS organisations were using slow and unreliable internet supplied through copper lines, which restricted the ability to offer digital services to patients.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: "Every day, our NHS staff do amazing work – but too often they are let down by outdated and unreliable technology. It's simply unbelievable that a third of NHS organisations are using internet that can sometimes be little better than dial-up.

"To give people control over how they access NHS services, I want to unlock the full potential of technology. This is the future for our 21st century healthcare system and a central part of our NHS long-term plan.

"Faster broadband connections can help us deliver these dramatic improvements. We need clinicians and other healthcare professionals to feel confident they can access fast, reliable broadband so they can provide patients with the best possible care."

The DHSC did not give a date for completion of the upgrade.

Neurological Conditions

New guidelines on recognising and referring people with suspected neurological conditions were published by NICE this week.

They covered the initial assessment of symptoms and signs that might indicate a neurological condition, to help non-specialist healthcare professionals identify people who should be offered referral for specialist investigation.

Suspected neurological conditions account for about 1 in 10 GP consultations but the symptoms are often hard to diagnose. A recent survey by the Neurological Alliance found that nearly a third of respondents had to see their GP five or more times about the health problems caused by their condition before being referred to a neurological specialist, NICE said.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: "This new guideline should help improve outcomes for people with suspected neurological conditions by providing, for the first time, a comprehensive assessment of the key signs and symptoms across the range of possible neurological conditions that should trigger referral to a specialist."

Richard Grunewald, chair of the guideline committee said: "A non-specialist cannot be expected to keep up with the rapid changes in knowledge and practice in clinical neurology.

"This new guideline will help non-specialists recognise patients with neurological symptoms, such as dizziness and sleep disturbance, to prompt their referral to specialist assessment and care."

Diagnosing Stroke and Transient Ischaemic Attacks

NICE also published updated guidelines on the diagnosis and initial management of stroke and transient ischaemic attack.

The guideline says thrombectomy should be offered alongside anticoagulants if there was potential to salvage brain tissue.

Previously, thrombectomy was usually only recommended up to 12 hours after the onset of symptoms.

Approval for Lung Cancer Drug

Final draft guidance was published by NICE recommending atezolizumab (Tecentriq, Roche) for inclusion in combination therapy as an option for some people with non-small cell lung cancer that has spread.

The draft guidance recommended the immunotherapy treatment plus bevacizumab (Avastin, Roche), carboplatin, and paclitaxel as an option for adults with non-squamous, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who:

  • Have not had treatment for their metastatic NSCLC before and whose PD-L1 [programmed death ligand-1] tumour proportion score is between 0% and 49%, or

  • When targeted therapy for epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)-positive or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)-positive NSCLC have failed

An appraisal committee found that patients on this treatment lived longer than those on current treatment (pemetrexed (Alimta, Eli Lilly and Company) plus carboplatin or cisplatin, with or without pemetrexed maintenance. It also suggested that patients lived longer before their condition worsened.

NICE said the positive recommendation followed an improved discount on the price of atezolizumab and bevacizumab offered by the manufacturer.

Ulcerative Colitis

NICE updated guidance on the management of ulcerative colitis in children, young people, and adults.

It included new recommendations on inducing remission in mild-to-moderate cases of ulcerative colitis.

Crohn's Disease

A new guideline covering management of Crohn's disease in children, young people, and adults was published by NICE.

The guideline, which replaced one previously issued in 2012, included new recommendations on maintaining remission after surgery.

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