New research has highlighted stark disparities in access to the latest cancer drugs across European Union nations, according to data presented at the 33rd Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Stockholm.
While countries like France, Spain, Austria and Switzerland have tended to introduce the new drugs quickly, researchers say, others such as the UK and more recent EU entrants bring them in more slowly.
Dr Nils Wilking from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden gathered data on the sales of newer drugs per inhabitant of each country provided by pharmaceutical industry consultants IMS Health. His group's focus was on the uptake of newer 'targeted' drugs over the past 10 years in 27 countries.
Overall, they found substantial variation between countries, both in terms of speed and uptake of newer cancer drugs, and the level of usage of the drugs.
"Of the major western EU countries, the UK tends to come out both low and slow with a few exceptions," Dr Wilking said. "Overall, Austria, Switzerland and France bring the new drugs out more quickly. France also has an especially high general uptake of most new drugs. Spain is somewhat lower and slower but was a 'leader' in the early part of the 2000s."
The cost of the newer drugs is probably the major barrier to access, Dr. Wilking said. "To some extent it could also relate to the introduction of more 'targeted' drugs that tend to be more complex to understand and, in some cases, have smaller studies to support their approval."
The impact of this disparity on the health of Europe's cancer patients is hard to say with certainty, Dr Wilking said. "It is a complicated area as the epidemiological data lags so much behind. We need much better epidemiological data in order to evaluate the link between access to cancer drugs and outcome."
Access to drugs is not the only factor involved in improving cancer outcomes, he added. "Patients need to have full access to the most innovative technologies in prevention, screening, surgery, radiotherapy and drugs."
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