U-turn on prostate cancer pill
The NHS’ rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is poised to retract its ban on a drug to treat advanced prostate cancer in men receiving chemotherapy.
Abiraterone was originally judged too expensive by NICE, with a month’s treatment costing around £3000. Following the decision in February, however, NICE faced heavy criticism from Cancer Research UK and was urged by the Department of Health to overturn the decision.
Research has shown that the drug, taken as a tablet, can prolong the life of cancer sufferers by four months more than any other treatment, while at the same time relieving pain in twice as many men as those taking steroids.
Some patients on the drug have lived far longer than expected, with some in the UK living for around four years in the advanced stages of the cancer. The drug is widely credited with keeping Lockerbie bomber Adelbaset al-Megrahi alive.
The drug was approved last year in Europe and the United States and will now be legal in England and Wales, though the decision stands in Scotland and will be reviewed.
Harpal Kumar, the head of Cancer Research UK, said of the decision: “This is wonderful news for patients with advanced prostate cancer.”
The drug works by blocking the production of testosterone and targeting the tumours themselves. It was discovered by scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden, both situated in London.
The drug is set to benefit around 3,300 men a year who suffer with the disease, which can become resistant to other hormone-based treatments in its advanced stages.
Owen Sharp of the Prostate Cancer Charity praised the decision, saying: “This breakthrough drug will make a real difference to men with prostate cancer at the end of life who have no alternative – this is the only hope they have.”