Cancer patients may be missing out on the most effective treatments on the NHS because of poor access to new biomarker tests, according to a new survey.
100 oncologists took part in an online survey sponsored by drug company Merck Serono. 75 per cent of these said they had to overcome barriers to be able to use targeted medicines on their patients.
Biomarker tests identify patients with particular genetic make-ups
The majority of the specialists agreed that access to biomarker tests for personalised medicines was subject to a postcode lottery.
Biomarker tests can identify patients with particular genetic make-ups or blood proteins that make them suitable for specific therapies. Lung, breast, bowel cancers and leukaemia are the key diseases where personalised medicines are available.
Merck Serono announced last year that it would fully fund the KRAS biomarker testing for all UK patients diagnosed with bowel cancer.
However, 53 per cent of the consultants who took part in the online poll said they ‘often or sometimes’ prescribed a treatment that was not necessarily the best choice for an individual patient because of access to tests.
Breast cancer treatment Herceptin, for instance, is only effective for women with an over-active Her2 gene, and antibody drug cetuximab only works for around 60 per cent of patients with bowel cancer.
22 per cent of the oncologists said patients were sometimes given drugs without reference to test results that could indicate whether the treatment would work.
The doctors said the cost and red tape in the NHS were the main obstacles to biomarker tests. They also highlighted the long delays in obtaining the test results from specialist laboratories.
More than a fifth said they would be more likely to offer personalised medicine to a private patient or those with private medical insurance.
Dr Tim Iveson, consultant medical oncologist at Southampton General Hospital and a member of the charity Bowel Cancer UK's medical board, said: "These findings are extremely worrying. It is simply not acceptable that some patients are not getting the treatment that they deserve.”
Health Minister Lord Howe said has promised a new commissioning and funding structure which will come into effect next year and improve access to biomarker tests on the NHS.
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