Published on: 12 July 2019

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. 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.

Detecting cancer early when it is easier to beat and providing the latest treatments is a central part of the NHS Long Term Plan. 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.

Patients in England are ideally placed to benefit thanks to the NHS’s world-leading national genomic medicine and testing service which means they can be identified and tested, allowing faster access to targeted treatment, often when no other options are available.

NHS England will now work with the industry to step up preparations and:

  • Bring together different cancer specialists to ensure all patients who could benefit from tumour agnostic drugs are identified
  • Embed the tests for these genomic mutations within existing cancer pathways
  • Through NICE ensure that the unique characteristics of these treatments will be valued appropriately and efficiently.

Speaking at the Confed19 event Simon Stevens said: “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.”

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.” 

This announcement follows NHS England’s landmark commercial deal in September last year to bring the pioneering CAR-T therapy to cancer patients in the UK.
Existing cancer drugs need to be approved by NICE for each individual type of cancer they treat such as breast or colon cancer. However, when approved, these cutting edge new tumour agnostic drugs would be available to treat all types of tumour without individual approval.
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. 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. 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.