Patients in England with diseases such as cancer are to be given greater access to innovative drugs, under a fast-track scheme introduced by the Office for Life Sciences.
The scheme will see NICE introduce an 'innovation pass', which allows selected drugs to be funded for NHS use for a three-year period without going through a NICE appraisal.
Most significant new medicines will continue to go through NICE's existing processes, but drugs for small patient populations will be introduced under the pass, which will be piloted from next year.
After the three-year period elapses, the medicines would be evaluated by NICE.
Funding for medicines granted a pass will not come from PCTs but from a £25 million ring-fenced DoH budget.
At the launch of the Life Science Blueprint, which sets out the plans, science minister Lord Drayson said small patient groups, such as those with late-stage cancer, could benefit.
'The size of these populations makes it difficult to generate data to put the medicines through the NICE process,' he said.
'Unless we have the means to put the most innovative breakthrough medicines into clinical practice, we miss the opportunity for them to be presented as the gold standard.
'We are modifying the existing NICE process. This is not something that is being done outside NICE. We believe these medicines will be highly complementary to the NICE process.'
He added that NICE would decide which medicines would become available. But NICE deputy chief executive Dr Gillian Leng told GP the criteria for deciding which drugs will qualify for a pass had yet to be defined.
'We cannot say how many drugs will be available or which patient groups will benefit.'
NICE is expected to launch a consultation this autumn to define the criteria for the scheme.
Comment below and tell us what you think