A DRUG hailed as a breakthrough in extending the lives of men with late-stage prostate cancer is too expensive for use on the NHS, a watchdog said today.
Leading cancer experts said the decision over abiraterone (also called Zytiga) was a “huge blow” to patients with very few treatment options left.
Cancer Research UK said the draft decision by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) – which is still open to consultation – made “no sense”.
Abiraterone was developed by scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden in London after the discovery that some prostate cancers can produce their own testosterone. It works by blocking production of male hormones.
One trial of 1,200 patients showed men survived an average of four months longer and suffered far less pain with the drug, which it is claimed has changed the way scientists think about the disease.
But Nice has ruled that although the drug is effective, it is not good value for money for the NHS at the price set by the manufacturer Janssen.
Owen Sharp, chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: “This draft decision is a bitter blow to thousands of men and their families – and must be overturned.
“The drug is one of the biggest breakthroughs in the treatment of the disease for many years and it will be devastating if this drug remains out of their reach when they need it the most.”
Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said patients had been accessing abiraterone through the Cancer Drugs Fund set up by the Government to pay for treatments not approved by Nice.
“This decision makes no sense,” he said. “Since it became available in the UK, abiraterone has been one of the most requested treatments from the Cancer Drugs Fund.
“We need to find a way for it to be routinely available through the NHS. At the moment it is too expensive and Nice must find a better way to ensure drugs that are already working for patients get approved.”
The charity’s chief executive Harpal Kumar said: “We’re hugely frustrated that Nice felt the drug wasn’t good value for money. Generous public donations to Cancer Research UK and other organisations paid for the initial development of the drug and we feel extremely let down that the drug’s manufacturer couldn’t offer Nice a price they could agree on.
“Nice should take another look at the way they have reviewed the cost effectiveness of abiraterone. We hope this, and a revised offer from the manufacturer, will result in the drug being available to patients who desperately need it.”
An ICR spokeswoman it had developed four new drugs for men with advanced prostate cancer in recent years but none was routinely available on the NHS.
“With the real progress we are making towards personalised cancer medicine, it may be now time for a wider conversation about how we can make sure the right drugs are available for the right patients.”
Sir Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice, said one of the key benefits of abiraterone is that it can be taken orally at home.
“However, it is an expensive drug and the independent advisory committee that made this decision did not feel the drug provided enough benefit to patients to justify the price the NHS is being asked to pay, even with the discount that the manufacturer has offered,” he said.
Each year around 37,000 men in the UK are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 10,000 die from the disease.