March 24th, 2016

Royal Assent Given to "Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Act"

Press Release:
Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill Passes Into Law

This week, at the end of a long parliamentary journey, the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill received Royal Assent.

The Bill, which is now an Act of Parliament, was brought in by Chris Heaton Harris MP back in June. The Act, however, evolved considerably as Chris listened to concerns raised by the medical community. After 10 months of extensive cross party working, and key measures on off-label prescribing were added, the Bill passed into law yesterday with support from MPs of all parties and was strongly backed by the Minister responsible for this area, George Greeman MP, the Minister for Life Sciences.

The Act has the potential to make a real difference to patients by encouraging and expediting the spread of innovative, evidence based treatments, and warning against those which have proven to be risky or ineffectual. Furthermore, by facilitating better information sharing it is hoped that it will support and encourage medical research in new areas.

Speaking yesterday as the Bill received Royal Assent, Chris Heaton Harris said, “In an age of ever-evolving medical treatment, this Bill will make sure the amazing work that goes on in our NHS every day is not isolated to one hospital, surgery or practice, but is easily seen and accessed by every registered medical practitioner searching for the best treatment. The appetite for encouraging medical innovation and support for off-label use has been made very clear throughout the passage of this Bill and I am delighted these measures have finally made it into law.”

The Act empowers the Secretary of State to create a database of innovative medical treatments, including new uses of existing drugs, off-label. Its central aim is to ensure the effective collection and dissemination of information about innovative treatments carried out by registered medical practitioners.

This has two strands: Firstly, with regards to new, emerging treatments, the Act seeks to make sure that data is shared across different research centres and that both the successes and failures of new treatments are readily available to clinicians up and down the country.

Secondly, its other key aim is to raise awareness of the off-label use of existing drugs which have been proven to be effective for other conditions. This includes drugs for breast cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and prostate cancer and the list is likely to grow rapidly as more new uses are found for old drugs. These ‘repurposed’ drugs, which are often very cheap, are regularly prescribed in specialist centres but are not consistently used across the country. It is thought that their routine use could not only save lives but save the NHS money.

Measures to support the use of off-label drugs have had strong backing across both Houses of Parliament, and, after his own Private Members’ Bill, the Off-patent Drugs Bill, was talked out in November, Labour MP Nick Thomas Symonds joined forces with Chris Heaton-Harris to look at how his Bill could address the issue. Together with SNP spokesperson and breast cancer surgeon Philippa Whitford and Conservative MP Jo Churchill - a three time breast cancer sufferer and passionate campaigner on medical research issues.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP said, “I am thrilled that by working on a cross-party basis we have been able to secure these important steps forward on off-patent drugs. These measures will help to ensure that patients across the UK have access to cheap, potentially life-saving drugs.

“As I’ve learned first-hand, Private Members’ Bills rarely make it into law, but this is a great example of how by working together MPs can use the parliamentary system to extensively deliberate, debate and amend a Bill and achieve something that will have a real and lasting benefit for their constituents.”

Jo Churchill MP also welcomed the Bill’s success, saying, “despite the defeat of the Off-Patent Drugs Bill, the cross party advocacy for greater access to treatments made collaboration across the House the key to unlocking patient benefits. Working together with my parliamentary colleagues on the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill it has been possible to advocate for the broader use of repurposed drugs. It has shown what can be achieved by Parliament to the benefit of patients."

“As a former patient and healthcare campaigner, these outcomes are a priority to me. Now, with the power to use repurposed, off-patent drugs as well as the delivery of a database; the treatment of cancer and rare diseases will be advanced. My hope is that, off the back of both science and sensibility, more lives can be saved.”

Chris said, “it was 50 years ago that America’s war on cancer was declared by President Nixon, and it was Present Obama in his State of the Union address to Congress not so many weeks ago who stated it was time to attempt a “moonshot” in cancer. He affirmed that information and data sharing would be at the crux of this final battle against the disease. The following day, the President visited a school in Louisiana. He told the children there that cancer would be cured, not in his lifetime, but in theirs. He told them that America would cure cancer."

“I believe that this Bill has the potential to be a small foot up for our own research, and to let us tell our own school children that it was British scientists who achieved this momentous moment in history.”

Photo: George Freeman MP (Minister for Life Sciences), Philippa Whitford MP (SNP), Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Jo Churchill MP (Conservative) and Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (Labour)