Lack of biomarker results affects cancer prescribing

 Cancer patients are not prescribed the most appropriate treatment for their disease due to a lack of access in receiving biomarker test results, a new report has found.

Market research from 100 oncologists found that more than half of cancer specialists (53%) admit to prescribing a treatment which is not necessarily the most appropriate due to a lack of data.

Dr Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Southampton General Hospital and member of Bowel Cancer UK’s Medical Board, says the findings are “extremely worrying”.

The report – conducted by Merck Serono – also reveals that a further 40% of specialists said they were unable to prescribe the best appropriate treatment due to delays in biomarker tests results.

Biomarker tests are crucial in determining whether a personalised treatment may be more effective than standard options.

However, nearly three quarters (74%) of specialists either agree or strongly agree that biomarker tests differ between in availability regions after 22% of respondents admitted to prescribing personalised medicines without appropriate biomarker tests.

Almost half of respondents said the biomarker test results take at least two weeks to be returned and the unsatisfactory delay risks treatments being interrupted, potentially impacting outcomes.

Additionally, the report found that almost one in four doctors (22%) were more likely to offer personalised medication to private patients as opposed to an NHS one.

Dr Iveson said the findings were “simply not acceptable” and called for more partnerships between the NHS and pharma to ensure patients are given the same level of treatment across the country.

“In bowel cancer, we are making headway, with biomarker testing standardised and provided to every patient by the pharmaceutical industry,” he commented. “We need more collaborations like this between the NHS, the pharmaceutical industry and Government to ensure better use of stretched NHS resources and to make sure that individual patients are receiving the very best treatment possible that will lead to the best outcomes and where possible extend life.”

The report was sent to MPs on the same day the DH revealed new guidance on the Cancer Drugs Fund in an attempt to increase the speed with which patients receive treatment.