Officials have finally relented and agreed to give men with prostate cancer early access to a life-extending drug.
The U-turn means that nearly 6,000 men in England could now benefit from abiraterone, which delays the need for chemotherapy for months, if not years.
Until now abiraterone was only routinely offered to men on the NHS after gruelling chemotherapy, when all other treatment options had been exhausted.
But NHS drugs rationing watchdog NICE today announced that the drug would be made available earlier – after hormone treatment but before chemotherapy is attempted.
Experts today welcomed the decision as a ‘big victory’ for men with prostate cancer – but said it highlighted problems with the regulator’s ‘tortuous’ decision making process.
NHS drugs rationing watchdog NICE today announced men with prostate cancer will be given access to the life-extending drug abiraterone. Pictured is a man’s prostate (in orange)
The drug, which was developed by scientists in London, had been made available in 95 other countries before NICE eventually approved its use yesterday.
Some patients had been able to get the drug at an early stage in England through the Cancer Drugs Fund – but only 493 people were given the treatment this way last year, out of a possible 5,900.
The decision to make it available through NICE secures its long-term future on the NHS, as the Cancer Drugs Fund is due to be overhauled next month with all treatments re-assessed.
NICE said it reversed its earlier decision after manufacturer Janssen provided new evidence about the impact of the drug.
Some men lived for four years than those who did not take the drug.
Abiraterone taken at this stage also delayed the progression of the disease, reducing pain and increasing quality of life, the data showed.
Janssen also agreed to reduce the price of the drug by a fifth, from £2,930 per month to £2,300.
The firm also agreed to only charge the NHS for the first 10 months of treatment for any single patient.
Until now abiraterone was only routinely offered to men on the NHS after gruelling chemotherapy, when all other treatment options had been exhausted
Professor Carole Longson, director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at NICE, said: ‘I am very pleased the new evidence submitted has meant we are able to recommend abiraterone.
‘There are few treatments available for patients at this stage of prostate cancer so this is very good news.’
Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: ‘This is a big victory for men in England with prostate cancer, and means they will finally catch up with the US, Europe and indeed Scotland in being able to access abiraterone earlier in the course of treatment.
‘Abiraterone was discovered at the ICR’s laboratories in London.
‘It’s great that men with advanced cancer who are treated on the NHS will now routinely receive a drug that allows them to live longer and delay chemotherapy.
‘The answer today is the right one, but I would urge NICE to implement the planned overhaul of its drug appraisal processes as soon as possible to avoid repeated delays in getting the best, most innovative treatments to patients.
‘It’s been more than three years since NICE first started evaluating use of abiraterone pre chemotherapy, and it’s very frustrating that it has taken that long for NICE and the drug’s manufacturer to find a way of making it available cost-effectively.’
Heather Blake of Prostate Cancer UK said: ‘This long awaited decision is fantastic news and brings an end to years of uncertainty for men and their loved ones.
‘After 18 months our calls have finally been heard as NICE and the manufacturer have managed to negotiate a way forward.
‘However it cannot continue to take so ludicrously long to get men what they need.’
Cancer charities said the announcement the drug will be given earlier ‘brings an end to years of uncertainty for men and their loved ones’ (file photo)
Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer, with 47,000 British men diagnosed and 10,900 killed each year.
Hugh Gunn, trustee of the prostate cancer charity Tackle, added: ‘After a long and torturous process, Tackle is delighted that abiraterone has finally been passed by Nice for patients who have not yet received chemotherapy.
‘This life saving drug has helped dramatically improve and prolong patients’ lives and now more men and their families can continue to benefit from this.’
And Professor Malcolm Mason, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘We’re delighted to hear that NICE has approved abiraterone to be used before chemotherapy for men with prostate cancer that has spread and has come back after their first line hormone therapy.’