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Roche repeats cancer drugs warning as Avastin faces another NICE rejection

Concerns about future of Cancer Drugs Fund

Roche Avastin bevacizumab cancerThe pharma company Roche has once again called for clarity on the future of access to cancer drugs in England after Avastin was turned down in yet another oncology indication.

The cost-effectiveness watchdog for medicines, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), recommended against the use of Avastin (bevacizumab) in the treatment of women with advanced ovarian cancer in two pieces of final guidance, adding to rejections in breast cancer, bowel cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The latest guidance covers the use of Avastin in combination with the chemotherapy drugs paclitaxel and carboplatin as a first treatment for advanced ovarian cancer, and in combination with carboplatin and gemcitabine to treat a recurring form of the condition.

“NICE concludes that funding the treatment on the NHS does not represent the best use of taxpayers' money,” said the body, determining the price set by Roche was too high to justify the drug's benefits.

NHS patients in England will still be able to access Avastin for use in ovarian cancer, but only through the Cancer Drugs Fund – a fund set up to pay for cancer medicines not recommended by NICE.

As pointed out by Roche in its response to the NICE decision, the Fund is set to end in March 2014, after the new value-based pricing system of drug reimbursement is introduced in England and Wales, and there are concerns about what will happen to the thousands of patients currently prescribed medicines through it.

“There needs to be a clear transition plan for these medicines to provide reassurance for patients eligible for treatments currently funded by the Cancer Drugs Fund,” said the company.

“It is still uncertain how the new method of medicines assessment (value-based pricing) will be applied to existing medicines and there are further concerns that value-based pricing may miss its planned introduction in 2014 leaving a potential gap in access to medicines that improve clinical outcomes.”

These concerns were backed by patient group Target Ovarian Cancer, with director of public affairs Frances Reid commenting it was “very unclear” how women could gain access to Avastin from 2014.

“It remains a source of deep frustration to us, and to women, that they are not able to routinely access this drug; the first drug to make a significant clinical difference in a generation, through the NHS,” she said.

Reid's comments follow similar remarks from Beating Bowel Cancer's CEO Mark Flannagan in a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

In the letter, Flannagan said: “We would like assurance that the Government will keep the promise it made to all cancer patients before the last election.

“Without such assurance, we are worried that we will return to a time when cancer patients have to beg for treatment or be forced to fund it themselves.”

Responding to Flannagan's letter, Health Minister Lord Howe said arrangements are in place to protect patients receiving treatments via the Cancer Drugs Fund.

He said: "For the longer term, we are considering ways in which patients can continue to benefit from drugs provided through the Fund."

22nd May 2013

From: Sales, Healthcare

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