NICE expected to lift ban on kidney cancer drugs

In collaboration with the Press Association

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is believed to be considering reversing its decision not to recommend four kidney cancer drugs for use on the NHS.

Although NICE has not commented on whether their final guidance will be different to that published in August, reports in several newspapers from unnamed sources suggest that it may recommend at least two of the medicines which were previously ruled cost-ineffective, early next year.

The health watchdog's preliminary guidance suggested that, as the advanced kidney cancer drugs Sutent, Nexavar, Avastin and Torisel were massively over their cost-effectiveness threshold, these should not be provided by the NHS.

However, the public uproar and media debate that followed the decision, and the subsequent publication of a review by Professor Mike Richards, the government 'cancer tsar', of how drugs are funded, is thought to have helped persuade the institute to reconsider - a move that experts estimate could extend the lives of up to 3,600 patients.

NICE has said that it is looking at the drugs again in light of new evidence about their effectiveness. The institute plans to hold a meeting in January with a view to publishing new guidance on all four treatments within four weeks of the meeting, with final guidance published in March 2009.

According to reports in the Daily Mail, the new evidence being considered is a US study which found that Sutent was more effective than first thought.

In addition, the Department of Health is revealed to have been in discussion with Pfizer and Roche, which manufacture Sutent and Avastin, about the cost of the drugs.

Hilary Jackson, Cancer Research UK policy manager, said: "We were very disappointed with NICE's initial recommendation that none of these drugs would be available for patients on the NHS. We hope that the extra time taken by NICE to review new data provided by the pharmaceutical company, and the negotiations being led by the Department of Health to find a more appropriate price for these drugs, will mean that they are able to change this decision.

"We are also pleased that NICE has responded to our concerns and is drafting additional advice for its appraisal committees on how they are reviewing drugs for patients with rarer cancers. This should mean that more of these drugs will be available to patients on the NHS in future."

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