Killer quango NICE in cancer drug Sutent U Turn

Thousands of kidney cancer patients should soon receive an expensive drug that could prolong their lives on the NHS following an about turn by the labour Government’s drugs rationing body NICE.

The National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (Nice) has issued new guidance recommending that patients with the cancer should be given Sutent, or Sunitinib, following a public outcry.

Last year NICE was accused of condemning sufferers to an “early death” when it recommended that the drug was not “cost effective” for the health service.

However, Nice has revised that guidance after taking into account new rules requiring greater funding for expensive drugs that can help terminally ill patients.

Coupled with an offer from the manufacturers, Pfizer, to make the drug cheaper, Nice said that its new draft guidance was that Sutent should be prescribed on the NHS.

Under the deal, Pfizer, will pay the £3,139 cost of the first six-week cycle of the drug, with the NHS picking up the rest of the bill, expected to be just over £30,000 a year.

In a statement, Nice said that it accepted that the drug was a “clinically effective treatment”.

The organisation has recommended that it be used for patients whose cancer is advanced or has spread to other parts of their body, and who currently have few other treatment options.

However, it still recommends that three other kidney cancer drugs, Avastin, Nexavar and Torisel, are too expensive for the benefits they offer.

Cancer experts said that the new guidance on Sutent would make an “enormous difference” to patients.

Around 7,000 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer in Britain every year and an estimated 3,600 could be eligible to receive Sutent, which is widely available in countries like Germany and France, and last month given to patients in Wales.

Currently patients with the advanced stage of the disease are offered just one drug, Interferon, to which many sufferers do not respond.

Sutent has been shown to increase survival by several months, and in some cases for up to two years, but does not cure the disease.

Andrew Dillon, the chief executive of Nice said: “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.”

Professor John Wagstaff, from the South West Wales Cancer Institute, said: ‘This really fantastic news for people with kidney cancer… (this will) make an enormous difference for patients and for clinicians.’

Dr David Gillen, medical director, Pfizer Limited, said Sutent had become “the new standard of care in the rest of the world” for kidney cancer patients.

“Not only will this decision have immediate benefits for eligible patients today, but will also pave the way for future treatment advances in kidney cancer,” he said.

In recent months Nice has agreed payment deals to allow a number of expensive drugs to be prescribed on the NHS.

These include Lucentis, which can improve the sight of sufferers of a degenerative eye condition, Tarceva, for lung cancer, and Revlimid, for a rare type of blood cancer.

Nice has previously faced controversy over its advice that Herceptin, the breast cancer drug, could only be used for advanced cases. Following public pressure and legal battles the drug was allowed for early stages of the disease.

The organisation is currently looking at its advice that Aricept, which costs £2.50 a day, be given only to Alzheimer’s patients with advanced stages of the disease.

Final guidance on the use of the four kidney cancer drugs is expected in March.


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