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Anger over bowel cancer drugs

21st August 2006

21082006_bowel_cancer1Q.jpgThe National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), has said that two new bowel cancer drugs, Avastin (bevacizumab) and Erbitux (cetuximab) are not sufficiently good value to justify NHS prescription, to the fury of patients and cancer charities.

Bowel cancer is the third-commonest cancer in the UK, with 35,000 new cases every year and 16,000 deaths; it affects one-in-18 people during their lifetime. More than half the patients will develop cancers that spread, for which the five-year survival rate is only 12 per cent.

Cancer Charities say that the two drugs shrink tumours and extend life in patients with advanced colon cancer, even if they are not a cure. They are widely available in other places, including across most of Europe.

Avastin and Erbitux are new monoclonal antibodies, that work by targeting a growth factor that stimulates the growth of blood vessels needed by tumours to grow. Both are licensed and in trials have shown effectiveness in tumours that are resistant to chemotherapy.  The drugs are relatively expensive; Avastin costs on average £17,665 per patient, and Erbitux £11,739. 
 
Two months ago the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group approved the use of Erbitux. Now, since Wales is subject to Nice, that decision will be reversed.

Bowel Cancer UK, in responding to the appraisal, said "It is ironic that while the UK has been in the forefront of developing both these drugs, including clinical trials, it looks as if we shall, once again, be at the back of the queue when it comes to being able to make them available to patients."

The RCN felt the recommendation was frustrating for both patients and clinicians, saying "...the recommendations appear to be sound, but it is disappointing that clinicians are not able to offer these treatments to patients who would be clinically eligible, thereby prolonging survival."

Parties have until the 5 September 2006 to appeal against the appraisal.

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