Thousands to be denied life-extending prostate cancer drug

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Thousands of males suffering with advanced prostate cancer may be denied a new drug by Britain’s healthcare costing agency.

Radium-223 is known to extend a patient’s life by almost four months, as well as improve the man’s quality of life if their cancer has spread to the bones.

The decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) to issue a draft decision for the drug not to be used by the NHS in England and Wales comes as a major blow to those suffering the disease. The institute has stated that the manufacturer of the drug, Bayer, has not supplied them with sufficient data to allow comparison with an alternate drug regime, hence they cannot make a decision on whether it is cost-effective.

Radium-223 is an internal radiotherapy treatment option for cancer which is hormone therapy resistant. Approximately 10,500 British males suffer from advanced prostate cancer that falls into this category. This particular monthly injection has indicated an extension to survival of around 3.6 months and it delays the spread of the cancer into the bones by around 5.5 months. Radium-223 is very similar to calcium, hence it is absorbed by the bone cells that are active which allows the killing of bone cancer cells.

A treatment course currently costs around £24,000, but Bayer has offered a discount to the Department of Health, which remains confidential.

According to prostate cancer specialist, Professor Jonathan Waxman, Nice has imposed almost impossible conditions on the use of the drug, despite the fact that they accept its effectiveness. Undertaking trials to produce the data they require could take give or more years to complete, while it would be of benefit to some males right now.

He further stated that Nice’s power should be limited as promised. He said that if this drug was one to be used in the treatment of breast cancer, there would be a public outcry.

The Director of Policy and Strategy at Prostate Cancer UK, Mikis Euripides, has urged Bayer to submit the required data during the next few weeks before Nice has the opportunity to make a final decision on this treatment which is so valuable to those suffering from this disease.

Image credit: Simon Blackley

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