The price the NHS in England agrees to pay for new medicines is too high, causing more harm than good overall, an analysis suggests.
University of York researchers say the special cancer drugs fund is particularly poor value, diverting money from other patient services.
They argue the drugs advice body, NICE, has set its price threshold too high.
But NICE says lowering prices could force the NHS to close the door on newer therapies.
The health service has to balance the costs of new treatments alongside investments made in more routine care.
To do this the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) uses a measure called quality-adjusted life years (QALY).
A similar approach is used in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The formula looks at the cost of using a drug for a year and weighs it against how much someone's life can be extended and improved.
At current limits, if a medicine costs more than £20,000 to £30,000 per QALY, it would not generally be recommended as cost-effective.
But researchers at York say the level should be closer to £13,000 to provide the most benefit across the NHS.
They argue that when NICE recommends the purchasing of drugs at higher prices, funds are diverted from other services and could lead to increased deaths from cancer, heart and lung and gut diseases across the NHS.