On Thursday 6 October, WA Communications convened a roundtable discussion between Rob Kettell, Director of Commercial Medicines Negotiation and Complex Transactions at NHS England, and representatives from leading pharmaceutical companies.
The session explored NHS England’s Commercial Medicines Directorate (CMD) priorities, and how companies can work in partnership with the NHS to ensure timely access to medicines for patients.
The session was timely, given the recent and further pending changes in the leadership team within the CMD, the recent launch of the innovative medicines fund (IMF), and ahead of discussions about a successor to the voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing and access (VPAS) that runs to the end of 2023.
To start, Rob outlined his three priorities:
- Access: Continuing to secure rapid patient access to new treatments
- Uptake: Ensuring there is consistency in the use of innovative treatments that are provided on the NHS across the country.
- Value: Delivering value for taxpayers by striking commercial deals for new medicines that are clinically led and commercially driven, at cost effective prices
A wide-ranging discussion followed. We outline five key takeaways below:
- Better, earlier dialogue between the NHS, NICE and companies has helped ensure expanded and accelerated access to innovative treatments, and this can continue to develop in the future
The growth of the commercial medicines team and with it the evolution of the commercial capabilities within NHS England has allowed for earlier and greater engagement with industry. Whereas previously, dialogue between NHS England, NICE and companies could be inconsistent and limited, there are now clear and established routes for early and ongoing communication – including a formal triage function in the CMD. This has benefited both sides, and is an approach that NHS England is keen to continue to develop.
As well as supporting new approaches to individual negotiations, it has also led to more effective horizon scanning which, in turn, has helped the CMD to work with NHS colleagues to better plan for new types of medicines, or medicines in specific disease areas, which may be ready to be appraised at the same time. For example, Advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) have been earmarked as a potential priority area for the coming years, building on the NHS’ track record as a leader in Europe for cell and gene therapies
It was acknowledged that this stronger approach to partnership working has been essential in overcoming some of the more difficult recent access challenges. Securing patient access to immuno-oncology treatments and combination therapies are clear examples of cracking ‘unsolvable’ challenges when all parties work together in partnership to ensure rapid access.
NHS England is now keen to work with companies to explore how to signal areas where there is demand for innovation from the system. This can give further clarity to industry on where focus may lie in the future.
- A focus on primary care to meet population health needs
Rapid innovation in drug development over the last ten years has led to huge breakthroughs for conditions with high unmet need like cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy. However, the focus on innovations like gene therapies and precision medicines, which are prescribed and administered in hospital settings, has not been matched by the same focus on innovation in the primary care setting, which is needed to achieve the population health ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan.
There is now a real appetite to explore how innovative treatments that have an impact on a wider, population-based level, in areas like as cardiovascular disease, can be brought into the system.
This may require new approaches to align value and affordability among very large patient populations. There is appetite for further exploration of how industry and NHS England can work together to find access routes for more to patients in primary care – to have the most significant impact.
- The CMD is keen to partner with companies to boost uptake, but must be selective
It was acknowledged that progress on boosting the uptake of new medicines has been mixed. There have been some big successes, particularly on treatments that have benefited from funding through the Cancer Drugs Fund, but also areas where potential uptake has not been realised, or has been slower than it could have been.
NHS England – including the CMD – has finite resource, and current fiscal pressures mean there is more focus than ever on achieving value. It must therefore focus this resource towards areas which are likely to have the biggest impact. This will inevitably require a degree of prioritisation on where to focus attention.
As an example, this might include working more closely with companies on targeted uptake strategies whose treatments address longstanding health inequalities, for example, as aligned with the NHS’ health inequalities CORE20PLUS5 strategy.
- The CMD is driven by the need to provide value to the taxpayer across all activity
There is recognition that the pricing and revenue environment in the UK is tighter than some other countries. From an NHS perspective, this provides value to the taxpayer and supports the sustainability of the NHS – while companies benefit from the NHS model where access to more than 55 million people can follow a single successful negotiation.
The NHS commercial framework for new medicines points to the complex problems that the CMD is often trying to solve by agreeing ground-breaking and world-first deals, for example the recently announced antimicrobial subscription model.
There is clearly risk involved in facilitating complex deals that go beyond a simple discount to reach a cost effective price with NICE. Therefore, more value needs to be derived from them, ideally creating a ‘win-win’ for companies, the NHS and the taxpayer.
Value is always expected to be at the cornerstone of all decisions made and can often be generated by treatments sitting at, or below, the bottom end of the NICE QALY cost-effective range. This is the value NHS England expects going into a complex negotiation.
- Making the UK an attractive place to launch medicines and bring in research and development investment is a continued area of focus
Maintaining and building on the opportunities of the UK’s strong skills and science base, regulatory regime, single payer system and high levels of clinical trial activity remain key features in the government’s ambitions for global life sciences leadership.
There is clearly appetite on all sides for the pharmaceutical sector to be a key industry to help deliver the government’s economic agenda. However, industry representatives expressed their views that life sciences investment in the UK could be limited due to the rigorous focus on securing value as outlined above.
While recognising the need for value, a more holistic approach to the life sciences operating environment is becoming increasingly important for industry. There are risks to these growth ambitions if industry feels squeezed on all sides. An elevated – more unified recognition of industry’s contribution would enable UK leadership teams to make a stronger case internally for further investment in the future.
- Utilise NHS England’s CMD triage function and the Office for Market Access to support with early dialogue and horizon scanning
- NHS England would welcome ideas and support to more effectively signal demand to the sector in specific disease areas
- Ensure resources are used effectively by providing detailed information and positions to NICE at pre-committee stage
- The NHS is looking to tackle the population health challenges set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, including by utilising greater innovation in primary care
- Medicines that offer holistic benefits, such as addressing longstanding health inequalities, are more likely to be considered for a bespoke NHS arrangement to drive faster and comprehensive uptake
About WA Communications
WA Communications is an integrated strategic communications and public affairs consultancy. Our specialist health practice supports clients across a diverse range of diseases at the intersection of policy, government affairs and communications, to achieve their strategic objectives.
If you would like to discuss how to best work in partnership with the NHS, contact Lloyd Tingley at email@example.com.