The NHS national Cancer Vanguard is pioneering a novel partnership with the pharmaceutical industry to make better use of medicines.

The Cancer Vanguard, part of the NHS new care models programme, was launched in 2015 to test out new methods of delivering cancer services in London and Greater Manchester.

As part of the ground-breaking Pharma Challenge, the Cancer Vanguard invited pharmaceutical companies to submit proposals to improve the availability and delivery of cancer drugs. A total of 22 companies put forward 39 proposals to a judging panel of chief pharmacists, nurses, clinicians, health science and other professionals.

The Cancer Vanguard has now signed agreements with two companies, Amgen and Sandoz, to develop their innovative plans, with further agreements expected shortly.

The Amgen project aims to map out and measure the most efficient out-of-hospital administration of denosumab, also known as Xgeva ®, a therapy used in patients with advanced breast cancer. This has the potential to bring treatment closer to patients’ homes and help health professionals decide the best treatment ‘pathway’ for individual patients. The project is not intended to promote denosumab over any other similar medicine.

Sandoz proposes an education and engagement programme with healthcare professionals across the Cancer Vanguard about the use of biosimilar medicines. These drugs are highly similar copies of biologic medicines and offer significant potential savings.

Most medicines are relatively simple and easy to produce and copy and the resulting copies are known as generic medicines. Biologic medicines are manufactured in a living system such as a microorganism, or plant or animal cells, and are more complicated to produce and copy. The copies are highly similar, rather than identical, and are called biosimilars. Biosimilar cancer medicines are expected to be used in the NHS from 2017.

Sandoz hopes its programme will improve healthcare professionals’ understanding of biosimilars and help them to better inform patients about their use and assist in their timely introduction when appropriate.

One of the Cancer Vanguard’s aims in setting up the Pharma Challenge was to address problems of cancer drug provision which were highlighted in the national cancer strategy, published by the Independent Cancer Taskforce in 2015.

The challenge required companies to meet the full cost of the projects themselves and demonstrate wider benefit to the NHS. Vanguard officials worked with the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries and the Ethical Medicines Industry Group to invite their members to submit proposals.

The vanguard is a national programme, launched at the end of 2015 to test and fast-track innovations in cancer care. Collectively, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and the system of cancer services in Greater Manchester, along with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, lead the two-year programme.

Rob Duncombe, Director of Pharmacy at The Christie and chair of the vanguard’s joint medicines optimisation group, said the three hospital trusts’ spend on cancer medicines exceeds £120 million annually. Year-on-year expenditure on cancer medicines is increasing by about eight per cent.

My colleagues and I were very impressed by the variety of companies and ideas that were submitted. We knew that the pharma industry had the best knowledge of how their medicines are used both in the UK and across the world, and were delighted that so many offered time and resource to drive forward innovative projects.

Through better use of cancer medicines, the potential to improve patient outcomes and experience, while saving the NHS money, is tremendous.’

The Cancer Vanguard is continuing to assess a number of further projects proposed through the Pharma Challenge and expects to sign more agreements in the coming weeks.