The Costs of Cancer: NICE Refuses to Pay for New Drug

If you have a specific type of lung cancer, a new drug that could significantly improve your wellbeing is too expensive for the NHS. This is according to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), who have refused to pay for Crizotinib, which costs £4,000, as they are unsure how successful the drug is, and so it is not deemed to be cost-effective.

This has sparked discontent amongst wellness experts, such as Dr Michael Peake, Clinical Lead, National Cancer Intelligence Network, who said ‘In an aggressive disease like advanced lung cancer, where, for the majority of patients, survival is exceptionally poor and where not all patients can expect to gain much benefit with existing therapies, there is an urgent need for new medicines like crizotinib which target the specific drivers of a patient’s tumour. Clinicians recognise that the future of cancer treatment lies in these types of targeted medicines. If this preliminary guidance is upheld, it potentially signals a setback to the advancement of cancer medicine in the UK.’

The drug, which is aimed at patients in their 40s and 50s, has been granted a conditional licence by the EU drug regulatory body because it serves an “unmet clinical need” which is expected shortly to become a full licence. Crizotinib works by halting the advance of lung cancer for almost eight months – more than double the time for chemotherapy which, according to experts, costs more than £1,000 a month but is being given to hundreds of patients who will get little or no benefit. Patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) often have  a second round of chemotherapy which threatens some life-threatening side effects, but the drug has far fewer adverse effects, and could be beneficial to two-thirds of NSCLC sufferers.

Dr David Montgomery, Medical Director of Pfizer Oncology UK which makes the drug, commented, ‘Personalised medicines are developed specifically for selected subgroups of patients who are most likely to benefit, sparing those in whom they will have no effect. We believe this approach is better for patients and offers better value for the NHS, a concept in keeping with NICE’s purpose. We are committed to working through the NICEe consultation process to address the uncertainties within this preliminary recommendation.’

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