August 7, 2008

Cancer Patients Denied Wonder Drugs


PATIENTS with advanced kidney cancer will be denied four life- extending treatments on the NHS because they are not cost effective.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) yesterday issued draft guidance rejecting the drugs Sutent (Sunitinib), Avastin, Nexavar and Torisel.

Charities expressed outrage at the decision, saying it left patients only one treatment option - Interferon - to which many do not respond.

Cancer sufferer Ken Potts, 55, of Blyth, Northumberland, was initially denied the magic bullet drug Sunitinib on the NHS but, following a U-turn, health chiefs agreed to make the drug available to him.

Diagnosed with kidney cancer five years ago, Ken had a kidney removed, but 18 months later the cancer spread to his lungs. He was treated with other cancer drugs but severe side effects left him reliant on the provision of Sunitinib.

He is currently undergoing a new trial of chemotherapy.

Today his dad Ken, 79, of Blyth, said denial of treatments on the NHS would mean early death sentences for many. He said: "The decision by Nice will come as a huge blow to many living with kidney cancer.

"Everybody should get the treatment they need and there should be no exceptions.

"For any chance of prolonging someone's life it is essential they are given the chance to try all medication.

"People will die by the guidelines published by Nice and that's totally unacceptable."

The draft guidance, which is subject to appeal, rejects the drugs, saying they are not cost effective for patients with advanced and/or metastatic kidney cancer.

The medicines do not cure the cancer but extend a person's life by a matter of months, costing a patient between pounds 20,000 and pounds 35,000 per year. Patients already on the therapies should continue until they and their doctors consider it appropriate to stop, the guidance said.

Every year, up to 7,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with kidney cancer. Of these, around 1,700 patients will be diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer and at any one time around 3,600 people are living with the advanced form.

Prof Peter Littlejohns, clinical and public health director at Nice, said: "The decisions Nice has to make are some of the hardest in public life.

"NHS resources are not limitless and Nice has to decide what treatments represent best value to the patient as well as the NHS. Although these treatments are clinically effective,the cost to the NHS is such that they are not a cost-effective use of NHS resources.

"Two of the manufacturers have developed proposals which may have the effect of reducing the cost of the drugs. We will be happy to consider these proposals once they have been reviewed and considered suitable for the NHS."

Prof Littlejohns said there were no treatments that reliably cured advanced or metastatic kidney cancer.

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