February 12, 2008 / 12:06 AM / 12 years ago

UK's NICE backs ImClone's Erbitux, changes tack

LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Britain’s healthcare cost-effectiveness agency, in a change of tack, is recommending use of ImClone Systems Inc’s IMCL.O Erbitux drug in some patients with head and neck cancer.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which rules on which drugs should be prescribed on the state health service in England and Wales, had originally rejected Erbitux last May.

That decision has now been partially reversed, following an appeal by patient groups, radiologists and Germany’s Merck Serono (MRCG.DE), the company that markets the drug in Europe.

The new NICE draft consultation document recommends that Erbitux be used in combination with radiotherapy for certain patients with advanced disease for whom chemoradiotheraphy is inappropriate.

Final guidance is expected to be issued to the National Health Service in June, NICE said.

The episode highlights, once again, the problems faced by NICE as it tries to determine which cancer drugs should be prescribed on the state-run health service and which are not worth the money.

Vinod Joshi of the Mouth Cancer Foundation said the about-turn by NICE was a “happy day” for patients since Erbitux, known generically as cetuximab, represented the first significant treatment advance for head and neck cancer since the 1950s. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Sue Thomas)

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