NHS officials reject breakthrough lymphoma treatment Yescarta

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A new therapy which offers a lifeline to blood cancer patients who have run out of treatment options and have months to live has been rejected for widespread NHS use because it is too costly.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) decided against recommending the immune cell therapy for some patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), which carries out studies to find new treatments, has criticised the move, saying axicabtagene ciloleucel, also known as Yescarta, is a “major advance in cancer treatment” which has cured some patients who would otherwise have died.

The treatment, developed by Kite Pharma, adapts patients’ own white blood cells so they can attack cancer cells in the body.

Kite Pharma said that in clinical trials, 72 per cent of patients responded to therapy and 51 per cent went into complete remission. But NICE said that there is no direct data to compare the treatment, the first of a new line of chimeric antigen receptor T-Cell (CAR-T) therapies, with standard chemotherapy, and that the cost was too high.

Meindert Boysen, Director of the Centre for Health Technology evaluation at NICE, said: “CAR-T is an exciting innovation in very difficult-to-treat cancers, with a promise of a cure for some patients.

“We have been working with the companies involved, and with NHS England, with the aim of ensuring that patients in England are among the first to have access to these new treatments in Europe.

“Although promising, there is still much more we need to know about CAR-T, and unfortunately, in this case, we are not able to recommend axicabtagene ciloleucel for use in the NHS in England at the cost per patient set by Kite Pharma.”

The treatment was developed for patients with aggressive types of lymphoma which affect more than 4,800 people in the UK and is designed for those who have already had two or more different types of treatment.

Professor Raj Chopra, Head of Cancer Therapeutics at the ICR, said: “It’s disappointing that patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who have exhausted all other treatment options will not be able to access CAR T cell therapy, a brand new type of treatment for blood cancers. CAR-T cell therapy uses a patient’s own genetically modified immune cells to target their cancer.

“The technique is complex and expensive, but it is also a major advance in cancer treatment that has cured some patients who would otherwise have died.”