Important new research was recently published about the drug abiraterone. This showed that it can extend the life of men living with advanced disease that is no longer responding to existing treatments, such as chemotherapy. Abiraterone is one of the most significant moves forward for some time in the treatment of men with this type of prostate cancer and the average life extension of four months will make a huge difference to many men and their loved ones.
Yet, although this drug is being fast-tracked by NICE, it may still not be available for some time to many men. We want to see this drug reach those men it could benefit as swiftly as possible. They have very limited treatment options – and simply cannot afford to wait. We are calling on NICE and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) to urgently ensure that they are able to appraise this new drug as soon as possible, to ensure that guidance on its use in the NHS is available across the UK as quickly as possible so that there isn’t a long gap following licensing.
We have already seen this problem happen. Another drug, cabazitaxel, which can also extend the life of men with advanced disease no longer responding to other treatments, was licensed sooner than was expected and neither NICE nor the SMC have yet completed an appraisal of its clinical and cost effectiveness. This means there is currently a critical gap where cabazitaxel can be prescribed but no guidance exists from NICE or the SMC about who is entitled to receive the drug through the NHS. During this time some local healthcare providers may decide that it is not cost effective to pay for it and men living in that area, who could benefit from this chemotherapy, may not be able to access it – or even be told it exists.
We have already been contacted by men who believe they may be eligible for the to be given the treatment but have not been made aware of it by their GP and the Charity is worried that this could lead to a postcode lottery in terms of access to this drug.
The arrival of these two drugs into the UK should be good news for men with prostate cancer. However the current system runs the real risk of making this a ‘bad news story’. Whilst it is right in a national health service that there should be a clear analysis of the benefits of drugs and we need NICE and the SMC to stick to their word and fast-track the appraisal of this drug. Once abiraterone is licensed, men with prostate cancer will need clear information about whether it is appropriate for them. Furthermore, until guidance is issued by NICE and the SMC, those men for whom any licensed treatment is appropriate need clear information about how they can apply to their local healthcare provider to receive it.