August 11, 2006

UK agency nearer backing new breast cancer drugs

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's cost-effectiveness watchdog
NICE came one step closer on Friday to approving a new class of
breast cancer treatments known as aromatase inhibitors.

The decision by the National Institute of Health and
Clinical Excellence (NICE) to proceed to its final appraisal
means drugs made by the likes of AstraZeneca, Swiss drugmaker
Norvatis and Pfizer Inc. could soon be freely available to
patients on the country's National Health Service.

NICE said its appraisals committee had prepared a final
report and sent it to the institute.

NICE, which is responsible for deciding which medicines are
paid for on the NHS, said there was now a 15-day appeal period.

"Subject to any appeal by consultees, the (final appraisal)
may be used as the basis for the institute's guidance on the
use of the appraised technology in the NHS in England and
Wales," the appraisal committee said.

Aromatase inhibitors have been shown in clinical trials to
give greater protection than tamoxifen against the risk of
breast cancer returning after surgery. Tamoxifen has been used
to treat breast cancer for decades.

"This milestone brings us close to ending the postcode
lottery for AIs, such as anastrozole, which has been shown to
significantly improve women's chances of surviving early breast
cancer over and above the benefit seen with tamoxifen," said
Professor Jeffrey Tobias of London's University College.

"This recommendation brings the UK in line with some other
European countries, where AIs have now become the new gold
standard treatment for early breast cancer," said Tobias,
professor of cancer medicine at the university.

AstraZeneca, Novartis and Pfizer make Arimidex, Femara and
Aromasin respectively. Their drugs chemical names are
respectively known as anastrozole, letrozole and exemestane.

Around 41,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast
cancer each year, and an estimated 60 percent of these have
tumors that would be eligible for treatment with AIs.