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Politicians warn against media pressure over Herceptin

Green Party calls for calm in the wake of High Court decision not to give drug to cancer patient

With anti-cancer treatment Herceptin hitting the headlines daily, the Green Party has taken the unprecedented step of urging the health service, judicial system and drug-assessment bodies to protect themselves from undue media pressure.

The defeat of 54-year-old breast cancer sufferer, Ann Marie Rogers, in London's High Court has brought increased pressure on the government and the drug-Assessment body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Ms Rogers was prescribed Herceptin by her doctor, but her local PCT refused to pay for the treatment. Their decision not to pay for Herceptin, on the basis that it does not have a British licence for early stage cancer and may also be unjustifiably expensive, could have widespread implications.

However, the case has prompted an emotional reaction across the country, with calls for Roche's Herceptin treatment to be rushed through the licensing system managed by NICE. The Institute has admitted that Herceptin is one of five drugs that have been selected for fast-track appraisal.

In a recent statement, the Green Party urged caution to ensure that media interest and ìpressure from Rocheî do not influence approval norms.

Party Health spokesman, Stuart Jeffery, said: ìHerceptin may or may not be a wonder drug. With the news that Roche has applied for a licence for its use in early stage breast cancer, we urge NICE not to bow to media or commercial pressure in its review of clinical cost effectiveness. If it is approved and is later not found to be clinically effective, it will only be Roche's profits that benefit.î

ìIt would be a great tragedy if this drug turned out to be another Vioxx, however, the chances of a mistake in the assessment happening will be far less if NICE are allowed to form an impartial opinion.î

Many in the health service are alarmed at the pressure being placed on normal procedures. This week, NHS chief executives warned that patient safety was in danger of being undermined by politicians and patients, who were trying to sideline the correct regulatory process for new drugs.

Despite warnings, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has already interfered in previous cancer cases to ensure that local PCTs pay for the use of Herceptin. She also acknowledged last October that it had ìthe potential to save as many as a thousand lives a year.î

Meanwhile, evidence collected by the BBC's Panorama programme suggests that many trusts are already distributing Herceptin, and a survey of cancer doctors has revealed that three quarters of doctors had been allowed to prescribe it to patients.

30th September 2008


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