NICE approves drug for advanced bowel cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

The drug cetuximab (Erbitux) will be made available to certain people with advanced bowel cancer on the NHS, reports reveal.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued draft guidance approving the use of cetuximab in patients who have already undergone surgery and whose cancer has only spread to their liver.

Patients who are eligible for the treatment will receive a 16-week course which, if successful, could extend their survival by around two years.

The drug is a type of biological therapy called a 'monoclonal antibody' which is designed to attach itself to specific receptors on the surface of some cancer cells.

In doing so, it prevents a protein called epidermal growth factor (EGF) from reaching the cancer cells and stops them from growing.

According to its manufacturer, Merck, it works in around two thirds of patients who carry a normal version of the K-RAS cancer gene, which is about 65 per cent of all bowel cancer patients.

NICE has agreed to approve cetuximab after Merck proposed a 16 per cent reduction in the cost of the drug per patient.

Professor Peter Littlejohns, clinical and public health director at NICE, commented: "Before making these draft recommendations, the appraisal committee took into account the manufacturer's cost-effectiveness estimates and the proposed 16 per cent rebate scheme, as well as the evidence on cetuximab successfully shrinking liver metastases enough so that they can be removed via surgery.

"This guidance means that those patients who meet these criteria will have a further treatment option."

Hilary Jackson, Cancer Research UK's policy manager, welcomed the move: "Cetuximab has been shown to be effective in certain patients with bowel cancer. Cancer Research UK welcomes any decision that makes cancer drugs available to patients who will benefit from them."