NICE approves drug for advanced mesothelioma

In collaboration with the Press Association

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has revised its guidance on Alimta, a drug to treat mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer of the lining of the lungs.

The institute had initially ruled that the drug should not be available to NHS patients in England and Wales and should only be used in new or ongoing clinical trials.

However, NICE agreed to reconsider its guidance last year after charities, support groups and the drug's manufacturer Eli Lilly appealed that its ability to extend the life of sufferers with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), a lung cancer mainly associated with exposure to asbestos, outweighed the cost of treatment.

The drug has now been recommended for patients who are still able to carry out day-to-day tasks, but whose cancer is advanced and where surgery is inappropriate.

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "We welcome the change of heart shown by NICE who have now decided to recommend Alimta (pemetrexed) to mesothelioma patients with advanced disease and to those who cannot benefit from surgery.

"This is very good news for those patients who have one of the nastiest and deadliest forms of cancer as this is the only drug that can alleviate their suffering."

Dr Gillian Leng, implementation director at NICE, said: "Our initial review of the evidence available on Alimta suggested it was insufficient to demonstrate that the drug was better than other, far less costly medicines.

"But a number of significant factors have become apparent, which have enabled the independent appraisal committee to recommend it as a treatment option for the majority of people with (the cancer)."

Around 2,000 people develop advanced mesothelioma every year, and the disease is notoriously hard to treat successfully.

Restrictions on the use of asbestos are expected to lead to a sharp decline in the number of people with mesothelioma from 2015 onwards, meaning that an alternative treatment is unlikely to be developed before then and making NICE's new guidance all the more important.