Roche loses UK appeal over long-term Tarceva use

Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:01pm EDT

* NICE reiterates drug costs too much for maintenance use

* Roche had appealed 2010 decision rejecting medicine

* Once-a-day pill still funded as second-line treatment

LONDON, June 29 (Reuters) - Britain's health cost watchdog has again rejected Roche's Tarceva pill for long-term use in lung cancer patients who have had treatment to stabilise their disease, because it is too costly for the benefit it offers.

The decision is a blow for Swiss drugmaker, which had appealed against an earlier rebuff from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) handed down last year.

NICE, which decides if medicines should be paid for on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS), said it was not able to recommend the drug, also known as erlotinib, for maintenance use.

Tarceva is already backed as a second-line treatment for non small cell lung cancer and Roche had hoped to win wider approval for the once-daily pill as a long-term therapy for patients who have already had chemotherapy.

Long-term maintenance treatment is a relatively new concept in lung cancer care.

Roche estimates maintenance treatment with Tarceva can potentially extend life by approximately 3.3 months in patients with stable disease. NICE, however, said the evidence was not sufficiently robust to demonstrate this.

The blockbuster pill is partnered with OSI Pharmaceuticals, now part of Astellas , and had worldwide sales of $1.3 billion last year.

Its rejection for wider use in Britain comes despite a 14.5 percent price discount for the NHS, which reduces the price of a pack of 30 tablets to 1394.96 pounds ($2,230).

NICE has previously recommended Eli Lilly's drug Alimta as a maintenance therapy for a specific type of lung cancer, but it said the evidence for using Tarceva was not as strong. ($1 = 0.626 British Pounds) (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Holmes)

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