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Last hope dashed for access to life-extending pancreatic cancer drug on the NHS in England

Posted by: Research 17 September 2015

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has today (Thursday, 17th September) announced it will not allow advanced pancreatic cancer patients in England routine access to the life-extending drug Abraxane on the NHS.

NICE’s decision comes less than two weeks after NHS England removed the treatment from the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) list of approved drugs. An approval from NICE was the last hope of long-term access to the drug for free for eligible people with advanced pancreatic cancer in England. Today’s decision will deny hundreds of patients a year the chance to live an extra two months, and sometimes much longer, and has been made despite the fact the drug is approved for use on the NHS in Scotland and Wales.

Pancreatic Cancer UK today has vowed to do all it can to fight the appalling decision, and ensure that eligible people with advanced disease in England have the chance of accessing the treatment. The charity says it is also seriously concerned about the impact of NICE’s decision on patients elsewhere in the UK.

Abraxane is one of very few new treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer in 20 years which can allow patients to live longer. Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of the 21 most common cancers, with just four per cent of people living for five years after diagnosis. One person dies of the disease every hour.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Today, people with the deadliest cancer in England are being delivered a second piece of devastating news in as many weeks. NICE’s appalling decision will cruelly deny hundreds of eligible people with advanced pancreatic cancer the chance of spending twice as long with their families. This dire state of affairs is further proof that the drug appraisal system in England is broken, does not deliver for people with pancreatic cancer, and must be reformed.

“It is now also possible that the Welsh health service could U-turn on its decision to make the drug widely available, and patients in Northern Ireland have lost their last hope of access on the NHS. People simply cannot be left without this breakthrough treatment as an option. That’s why we are determined to continue doing all we can to make the drug available to people on the NHS in England. NICE must also continue to talk with the manufacturer and work towards finding a solution urgently.”

The charity is also calling on people to contact their MPs and ask for their support to help make the drug available to people on the NHS in England.

Abraxane was first placed on the CDF in March 2014 and since then, over 500 people with advanced pancreatic cancer in England have received the drug through the CDF. On 4th September, NHS England announced that it was removing Abraxane from the CDF list of approved drugs. This meant that newly eligible patients would be unable to access the drug for free from 4th November 2015. The CDF is due to close next year.

NICE initially rejected Abraxane for long-term use on the NHS in England for people with advanced pancreatic cancer in December 2014, stating it did not find the treatment to be cost effective. An appeal was then made against the decision. Today’s news is the final decision from NICE about the future of the drug following on from the appeal.

When used in combination with standard chemotherapy, Abraxane can allow eligible patients with advanced pancreatic cancer to live an extra two months on average, and sometimes much longer. Someone with advanced pancreatic cancer will typically live for just two to six months after diagnosis, so for some patients the treatment can allow them to live twice as long as they would have otherwise.

Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Two More Months campaign for access to Abraxane across the UK helped ensure the drug was originally made available to eligible patients in England through the CDF, and to its approval for use on the NHS in Wales (September 2014) and Scotland (February 2015).

For further information on pancreatic cancer and Abraxane, visit  www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk/abraxane