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Life-extending pancreatic cancer drug's availability long-term "on a knife edge"

Posted by: Policy and campaigning 1 June 2015

Pancreatic Cancer UK has today (Monday, 1st June) said it is seriously concerned that NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) will not recommend a life-extending drug for long-term use on the NHS in England.

The charity says if this is the case, the only current hope for people in Northern Ireland with advanced pancreatic cancer to access the drug will also be gone.

NICE has said today it has not made a final decision on an appeal against its December 2014 recommendation not to approve Abraxane for use on the NHS in England for people with advanced disease. When used in combination with standard chemotherapy, Abraxane can allow people to live an extra two months on average, and sometimes much longer.

The appeal was upheld on two grounds but rejected on four, so it is unclear what the outcome will be when the committee meets again later this year to make a final decision. But Pancreatic Cancer UK says to guarantee the long-term availability of the drug in England, NICE must approve it for use on the NHS.

Currently, people with advanced pancreatic cancer in England can access Abraxane for free through the Cancer Drugs Fund, but the CDF is expected to close next year. People in Northern Ireland are unable to access the drug at all, and this will only change if NICE approves the drug for use in England. In its initial decision in December 2014, NICE said it did not find Abraxane to be cost effective, so did not recommend the drug for use on the NHS in England.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “The long-term availability of Abraxane to people with advanced pancreatic cancer in England is now on a knife edge. We are seriously concerned about this initial response, which could pave the way for people’s hopes of being able to live an extra two months, and sometimes longer, being dashed. Someone with advanced disease will typically live for just two to six months after being diagnosed. We simply cannot take away the chance to let them potentially have twice as long to spend with their family and loved ones.

“We urge the NICE panel to approve the drug for use on the NHS in England. But whatever happens, the drug manufacturer and the NHS absolutely must find a long-term solution for patients. It is a no-brainer - this drug is one of very few new treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer in 20 years and has to be made available to everyone who needs it.”

Ms Ford added: “In the meantime, it is vital that Abraxane stays available for people with advanced disease in England through the Cancer Drugs Fund, so as many patients as possible are able to access the drug.”

Abraxane was approved for use for advanced pancreatic cancer on the NHS in Wales in September 2014, and Scotland in February 2015.

Find out more about pancreatic cancer and Abraxane here.