November 24, 2009 / 12:05 AM / 11 years ago

UK cost body again rejects Roche bowel cancer drug

* Avastin deemed not cost-effective by NICE

* Agency criticises “complex” Roche subsidy scheme

LONDON, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Britain’s healthcare cost-effectiveness watchdog has again rejected Roche’s ROG.VX drug Avastin as a treatment for bowel cancer, saying it is too expensive.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) first rebuffed Avastin and another targeted therapy, Merck KGaA’s (MRCG.DE) Erbitux, three years ago.

The agency then decided in June 2009 that Erbitux was worth using for a subset of bowel cancer patients with limited cancer spread and a particular genetic profile.

But Avastin will remain off-limits for NHS patients, despite a subsidy offer from Roche, under the recommendations published by NICE on Tuesday.

NICE is responsible for deciding which drugs are worth using on the state-run National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales.

The Swiss drugmaker said the subsidised package it had offered brought the cost per quality-adjusted life year, or QALY, down to 36,000 pounds ($59,800), or just over the commonly accepted NICE threshold of 30,000 pounds.

A QALY is a statistical measure of a person’s state of health, with one QALY equal to one year of perfect health or two years of half-perfect health.

NICE, however, said the Roche subsidy scheme was “complex” and “does not reflect routine clinical practice”.

Roche and the patient group Bowel Cancer UK expressed disappointment at the NICE decision but said they still hoped a way would be found to get the drug, which is also known as bevacizumab, to NHS patients.

NICE has frequently run into controversy for denying access to certain licensed drugs that are used routinely in other European countries and the United States.

The agency counters that it needs to ensure that spending on such expensive modern treatments, which may offer only limited clinical benefits, represent the best use of NHS resources.

In total, NICE has appraised 79 cancer drugs, of which 59, or 75 percent, have been recommended for use. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by Will Waterman) ($1=.6020 Pound) ((ben.hirschler@thomsonreuters.com; Tel: +44 20 7542 5082; Reuters Messaging: ben.hirschler.reuters.com@reuters.net; www.twitter.com/reutersBenHir))

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