NICE approves lenalidomide for multiple myeloma patients who have received previous treatments
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has approved the use of the life-extending drug lenalidomide in certain patients with multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable type of bone marrow cancer.
Patients who have already received two or more previous therapies will now be eligible to have lenalidomide on the NHS.
The drug is being made available thanks to a cost-sharing scheme agreed to by its manufacturer, Celgene UK and Ireland, which will fund treatment beyond the 26th cycle.
Prior to this arrangement, NICE had rejected the drug on the basis that it was not deemed to be cost-effective.
The latest decision was also made after NICE's independent Evidence Review Group (ERG) took into consideration the drug's potential to extend life.
"The committee noted that, in patients with multiple myeloma who have received two or more previous therapies, life expectancy without lenalidomide was unlikely to be greater than 24 months, and that lenalidomide could, plausibly, increase survival by more than three months compared with dexamethasone," the Lancet Oncology reports in a summary of the Institute's decision.
NICE estimates that around 2,000 patients could benefit from lenalidomide under the terms of the appraisal guidance.
Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, Professor Peter Johnson, welcomed the news and noted that the drug could give patients "valuable" extra months and "greatly improved" quality of life.
"We are also pleased to see increased flexibility in drug pricing enabling NICE once again to recommend a valuable new treatment for use on the NHS."
However, Professor Johnson noted: "It's disappointing that it has taken two and a half years for NICE to reach this decision - leaving patients and their clinicians in limbo, which can increase anxiety and uncertainty at an already difficult time."
Lenalidomide featured in a recent BBC2 documentary on June 17th in which science writer Alan Wishart investigated NHS drug rationing.
Writing in the Times prior to the documentary being shown, Mr Wishart revealed that he had been introduced to 71-year-old Julia Gatt, who was involved in a clinical trial of lenalidomide.
She described it as a "wonder drug" that brought about "unbelievable" improvements - all of which ended when the six-month trial she was enrolled in reached its conclusion.
She was subsequently given a number of other treatments but died before she could be put back on lenalidomide.