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New drugs to treat leukaemia

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

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Leukaemia is a blood cancer that affects approximately 8,700 new patients every year. Here, Sophie Hunt-Phillips, Campaigns and Advocacy Officer, tells us about new drugs to treat it.

What is leukaemia?

Leukaemia is a blood cancer where there is an over-production of abnormal blood cells that don’t work properly in the bone marrow (the spongy tissue found inside bones). Eventually, the abnormal cells fill up the bone marrow, which means the body cannot make the correct number of white cells, red cells and platelets. This affects how the body fights infection and causes symptoms such as anaemia, fatigue, fever, bruising and repeat infections.

How is leukaemia treated?

Traditional treatment for leukaemia includes therapies such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and stem cell transplants. Additionally, some patients may not start treatment right away but have their blood cancer monitored until it is appropriate to begin treatment (known as watch and wait).

The table here shows new, recently licensed anti-leukaemia drugs. Some of these drugs are already accessible for patients whereas others are not yet routinely available and are awaiting assessment to decide if they should be routinely available within the NHS.

Access to newer leukaemia drugs

In the UK, Health Technology Appraisals (HTA) are used to decide which treatments should be made available to patients via the NHS. Appraisals consider evidence that shows the clinical and cost effectiveness of a drug, before a decision is made and whether it should be recommended for patient use within the NHS.

There are three HTA bodies in the UK and each body assesses drugs individually:

1. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) assess drugs for NHS use in England and Wales.

2. The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) assesses drugs for use within NHS Scotland.

3. The All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) assesses drugs for use within NHS Wales, in addition to the NICE process.

To avoid duplicating the work of NICE, the AWMSG assesses drugs in advance of a NICE assessment (to enable earlier access), drugs that are not going to be assessed by NICE and drugs that have not been recommended by NICE on the basis of cost. The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) is as an alternative funding pot to enable patient access to drugs that are not routinely available to NHS patients in England, either because NICE has not recommended it or it has not yet been appraised.

The inconsistency in access to effective leukaemia therapies in the UK is an issue that is important to Leukaemia CARE. As a patient organisation we work hard to try to enable access to treatment for patients throughout the whole of the UK.

For more information, email