Kidney cancer drug gets NHS approval

In collaboration with the Press Association

Patients with advanced kidney cancer will soon have access to the new drug Sutent (sunitinib) in England after the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) decided to revise its guidance.

NICE issued guidance last year rejecting Sutent and another three kidney cancer drugs - Avastin (bevacizumab), Nexavar (sorafenib) and Torisel (temsirolimus) - for use on the NHS.

However, following a review of the financial criteria by which drugs that extend life at the end of life are evaluated, the institute has now published revised guidance approving Sutent, although the other three drugs have still not been approved.


- Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician, Cancer Research UK

Following a meeting of the independent advisory committee on January 14th, NICE decided to split the appraisal of the four drugs into two in order to issue guidance as quickly as possible.

In its first appraisal, it recommends Sutent as a first-line treatment for advanced and/or metastatic renal cell carcinoma for suitable patients. The drug will now be available on the NHS.

In its second appraisal, it does not recommend the other three drugs as first-line treatment options, or for people who do not respond to initial therapy (second-line treatment).

The second decision is 'preliminary', and is open to consultation until March 4th 2009 and will be reviewed on March 11th.

NICE chief executive Andrew Dillon commented: "Having decided that one of these treatments should be recommended for use in the NHS, we felt that it was in the interests of patients to get that advice out as quickly as possible.

"Although this final recommendation is subject to appeal we very much hope it will form the basis of our guidance to the NHS. The other three drugs we are looking at will be the subject of further consultation."

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, commented: "It's very welcome news that NICE has recommended the use of sunitinib for NHS patients with kidney cancer. This drug can make an important difference for people who have few other options for treatment, adding vital months to their life.

"We are pleased that NICE has responded to calls to update their appraisal process to better serve patients with rarer cancers and those at the end of their life. This is one of the first examples of NICE applying its new rules. Combined with pharmaceutical manufacturers' recognition of their responsibility to help patients by taking a flexible approach to the cost of drugs, this represents a major step forward in giving cancer patients access to the treatments that research is producing.

"But we are disappointed that kidney cancer patients for whom sunitinib is not suitable still have to wait to hear whether NICE's decision not to recommend bevacizumab, sorafenib and temsirolimus will be reversed after further consideration. We very much hope this decision will be made soon, and that one or more of these treatments too will become available."