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UK govt finds extra $78 million for cancer drugs

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is providing an extra 50 million pounds ($78 million) to pay for cancer medicines from October, bringing forward a government promise to give access to drugs even if they have not been approved by cost watchdog NICE.

The new money will allow doctors to prescribe treatments on the state health service, whether or not they have been recommended as cost-effective by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Doctors will decide locally how the funding is spent, based on the advice of cancer specialists, health minister Andrew Lansley said on Tuesday.

The country's new coalition government had promised to set up a 200 million pounds cancer drugs fund from April 2011. Now the interim budget is being made available six months before this, and ahead of longer-term plans to change drug funding.

Lansley said the move would help patients get cancer drugs that were widely available in other European countries.

"It's a scandal that we are strong in cancer research and participation in clinical trials in the UK, yet NHS (National Health Service) patients aren't always seeing the benefits from the research swiftly enough," he said.

Money for the interim fund will be found by savings elsewhere in the government's healthcare budget.

Drugmakers have frequently complained about the rejection of some cancer medicines by NICE, including Roche's blockbuster Avastin and GlaxoSmithKline's Tyverb.

The government move coincides with publication of a report from National Cancer Director Mike Richards on international variations in drug usage, showing British uptake of new drugs falls behind much of Europe. (http://link.reuters.com/peh79m)

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler)