The Welsh government has over-ruled a decision by NICE not to recommend Celgene's pancreatic cancer drug for routine use by the NHS.
Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel) will now continue to be available to patients in Wales, even though NICE decided last November that the drug should not be funded as a combination therapy with gemcitabine for previously-untreated metastatic pancreatic cancer.
The cost-effectiveness watchdog said at the time that the drug's benefits did not justify its cost and also that it carried a side-effect burden that impacted patients' quality of life.
The All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG) approved Abraxane as a first-line therapy in these patients, even though NICE's rulings generally take precedence in Wales.
Abraxane has been available on an interim basis in Wales since September 2014, when the drug was first backed by the AWMSG, several months after it gained EU approval as a first-line therapy. The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) initially rejected the drug in June 2014, arguing it was too expensive, but has since changed its decision.
In a statement, the Welsh government said: "In light of the clear clinical need and the potential for the drug to have a positive impact on a patient population of between 400 and 500 people in Wales, the Welsh government has reached an agreement with … Celgene to secure continued access."
It added that the pharma company is planning to submit new real-world data to NICE that it hopes will sway the agency and has committed to a re-appraisal of the product within the next two years.
Abraxane was among those drugs de-listed from the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) in its cull last September, closing that route of access for patients wanting to start therapy with the drug.
Responding to the news, Pancreatic Cancer UK's chief executive Alex Ford said that the situation has left a "divided UK where eligible patients in Wales and Scotland can access the treatment, whilst those living in England and Northern Ireland cannot."
"Such unfairness will anger and confuse many patients and families who we support," she added.
Celgene is now planning to make a re-submission to NICE with more data to support its use across the UK, and Pancreatic Cancer UK is urging "all parties to get around the table and make this happen as soon as possible".