Breast Cancer

A DRUG which can extend the lives of men with late-stage prostate cancer has been ruled too expensive for use by the National Health Service (NHS).

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said abiraterone (also called Zytiga) does not provide enough benefit to justify the price the NHS is being asked to pay.

Leading cancer experts said the decision was “disappointing” and a “huge blow” to patients who have very few treatment options left.

Cancer Research UK said the draft decision by NICE, which is still open to consultation, made “no sense” and that NICE had used the wrong criteria to judge the drug.

Abiraterone was developed by scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden in London after the discovery that some prostate cancers can produce their own testosterone.

It works in a new way, by blocking the production of male hormones in all tissues, not just the testes, including both the adrenal glands and the tumours themselves.

A phase III trial, reported last year in the New England Journal of Medicine involved 1,195 patients from 13 countries.

All had stopped responding to standard hormone therapies as well as second-line treatments such as chemotherapy drug docetaxil.

It showed men survived an average of four months longer and suffered far less pain with abiraterone compared to those taking a placebo.

Although the average extended survival time was four months, some men did much better, including two who were still alive after starting the treatment in 2007.

Abiraterone has been regarded as a “success story” for the ICR following more than two decades of work to develop the drug.

Experts said it has not only improved survival for men with prostate cancer but has also changed the way scientists think about the disease.

NICE has ruled that, although abiraterone is clinically effective, it is not good value for money for the NHS at the price set by manufacturer Janssen.

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