Children with cancer are being denied new and potentially highly effective drugs, because EU rules are allowing companies to trial some drugs only in adults, according to leading cancer experts.

Under the current system, drug companies often gain exemptions from carrying out expensive testing of cancer drugs in patients under the age of 18 – even where a drug’s mechanism of action suggests it could work in that age group. As a result there are significant delays in new drugs becoming available for children, and some potentially effective treatments drugs may never be formally licensed for paediatric use.

The London-based Institute of Cancer Research has called for urgent modifications to the current system of waivers and exemptions to force pharmaceutical companies to test more of their drugs in children. Specifically, the ICR wants the European Commission not to exempt pharmaceutical companies from testing cancer drugs in children, purely on the basis that the adult cancer targeted by the drug company does not occur in children.