Health chiefs accused over cancer drug refusal
The Daily Mail, June 26, 2006
The body responsible for approving NHS treatments has been accused of putting money before patients, after blocking the use of an anti-cancer drug.
Patients suffering from an asbestos-linked cancer will not be offered the drug Alimta, after a study by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).
The group studied the cost and effectiveness of the drug, whose scientific name is pemetrexed disodium and which is used to treat the cancer mesothelioma.
The appraisal concluded that the drug would not be recommended for use except as part of ongoing or new trials.
Professor Andrew Stephens, of the University of Birmingham, who chaired the panel behind the report, said the cost for each patient was about £8,000.
He said there was not enough evidence that pemetrexed disodium, which was used with another anti-cancer drug, was better than cheaper treatments.
But Professor Nick Thatcher, specialist lung consultant at the Christie Hospital NHS Trust in Manchester, said some patients will be left worse off.
He said: "This decision, if upheld, will remove a very useful treatment option for patients with this resistant cancer.
"It is contrary to the scientific evidence and is purely based on the value Nice place on a person's life."
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and about nine out of ten cases are linked to exposure to asbestos. People who worked in jobs such as shipbuilding, railway engineering and asbestos product manufacture are at increased risk of developing the disease.
Although the use of asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999, an estimated 65,000 cases are expected to occur between 2002 and 2050, as people who came into the material in the 1970s fall ill.
There is no cure for the disease but the pemetrexed disodium treatment is used to reduce symptoms and maintain quality of life.
The manufacturer of the drug, Eli Lilly, said it will appeal against the decision. It claimed the ruling will encourage the use of other, unlicensed treatments which have not been assessed for use.
A spokesman said some NHS centres, including those in Scotland, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, had already been given approval to offer the drug.
Dr Joanna Nakielny, medical director of Lilly UK, maker of the medicine, said: "This is a major blow for patients with mesothelioma, many of whom were unwittingly exposed to asbestos in their working lives making submarines, ships, boilers and trains.
"This treatment does not save lives, but it can prolong the lives of patients and also improve the quality of the time they have left. Lilly will be formally appealing Nice's decision."
The Nice recommendation only affects NHS centres in England and Wales.