‘Doctors more critical when prescribing new cancer drugs’

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Dutch oncologists will assess new cancer drugs more critically. The Dutch Association of Medical Oncologists (NVMO) decided this during a general meeting of members, according to the voting results that the FD has seen. Due to the tightened criteria, fewer new cancer drugs are entering the Dutch market. Patient associations are critical, says FD journalist Thieu Vaessen.

Just over half of the approximately 130 people present voted in favor of the decision. That already happened on April 19, but the NVMO has not yet officially announced this. According to the FD, the NVMO is probably waiting for the position of the lung cancer doctors. A spokesperson for the association for lung cancer doctors, the NVALT, reports to the newspaper that the NVALT will soon issue a statement together with the NVMO.

As a result of the decision, new medicines that have only limited effectiveness will no longer be approved for the Dutch market. “The bar for what is seen as an effective remedy — that is, how likely it is that the disease will return to a treated patient — is going up,” says Vaessen.

‘The conditions are stricter than elsewhere in Europe’

Thieu Vaessen, FD journalist

‘A new medicine must therefore meet stricter conditions, stricter than elsewhere in Europe.’ Due to the tightening, oncologists will soon only prescribe medicines that reduce the risk of cancer recurrence by 40 percent. Now it is still 30 percent.

Patients worried

Several patient associations have already objected to the stricter criteria of the professional association. Several organizations already submitted objections prior to the vote on April 19, according to the documents submitted by the members’ meeting. ‘It shows that they are very strongly opposed and worried,’ says Vaessen.

A pharmacy assistant in The Hague.  Image for illustration.
A pharmacy assistant in The Hague. Image for illustration. (ANP / Bart Maat)

‘As a patient you want to seize the opportunity, even if there is a small chance of effectiveness. Patient associations all strongly against. This is a very emotional topic. I have already spoken to an association that says they will go to court if the oncologists stick to this decision.’

Rising costs

The decision was probably prompted by the rising costs of healthcare, Vaessen thinks. ‘Oncologists feel responsible for keeping healthcare costs manageable. The costs and the high price of medicines certainly play a role.’

According to Vaessen, there is also a scientific discussion within the professional group about the effect of cancer medicines. ‘How do you rate that? Is it effective if tumors shrink? Or do we judge it as effective if the long-term survival of patients goes up? There is a discussion going on and oncologists are going to judge it more strictly.’

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