* NICE draft guidance finds Zytiga too expensive for NHS
* Prostate cancer drug discovered in UK, now sold by J&J
* Cancer groups say decision bad for patients and research
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Feb 2 Britain's health cost
watchdog NICE sparked a major row on Thursday by snubbing a
pricey new prostate cancer pill discovered at the country's top
cancer research centre, a decision critics said was bad for
patients and research.
If the draft ruling is upheld after further consultation,
Zytiga, which is marketed by Johnson & Johnson, will not
be reimbursed on the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
The drug was hailed as a significant advance by cancer
doctors after a clinical trial showed it extended the lives of
patients with advanced prostate cancer by an average of 3.9
months. Unlike many cancer medicines, it can be taken at home.
It was quickly approved by U.S. and European regulators last
year, but Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical
Excellence (NICE) said it did not provide enough benefit to
justify the high cost, even with a discount offered by J&J.
Zytiga, also known as abiraterone, is taken once a day as a
single dose of four tablets and costs 2,930 pounds ($4,600) for
a 30-day supply.
J&J has offered a discount, the size of which is
confidential, and it is possible that further haggling might
produce an acceptable pricing deal -- but leading cancer
charities are alarmed by the impasse.
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), whose scientists
discovered the medicine, said it hoped NICE would now work with
J&J to find a solution.
Cancer Research UK, which supported research into Zytiga
with the Medical Research Council and BTG before rights
to the drug were finally acquired by J&J, also questioned the
grounds of the NICE verdict, which it said made "no sense".
"Generous public donations to Cancer Research UK and other
organisations paid for the initial development of the drug and
we feel extremely let down," said Harpal Kumar, the charity's
It is the first time since 2008 that Cancer Research UK has
publicly criticised a ruling from NICE, whose decisions on
whether or not drugs should be used on the NHS are often
Worldwide sales of Zytiga are expected to reach $1.6 billion
a year by 2015, according to consensus forecasts compiled by
Thomson Reuters Pharma. British charities will receive royalties
on those sales, which will be reinvested in further research.
The drug works by decreasing production of testosterone that
would stimulate cancer cells to continue growing. It is designed
for use in combination with the steroid prednisone in patients
with late-stage castration-resistant prostate cancer who have
received prior chemotherapy treatment.
Johann de Bono from the ICR told a conference in Milan in
2010 the survival gain it offered compared favourably with that
seen with Roche's Herceptin in breast cancer.
The NICE decision means British men could be left without
the chance to benefit from "one of the biggest breakthroughs in
the treatment of the disease for many years", according to Owen
Sharp, chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Charity.