CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed a decision which has made the North-East the first region in the England to fund a lung cancer drug routinely on the NHS.
Patients in the North-East and Cumbria can now be treated with Tarceva after months of campaigning by sufferers of the disease and their families.
The North-East and Cumbria Cancer Drug Approvals Group made the decision pending final guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).
Doctors from the region asked Roche Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of the drug, to lower the price, making the drug more affordable.
This decision means patients can be offered the treatment after a first round of chemotherapy giving them hope of more time with their families. Father-of-three Jimmy Jenkyns was diagnosed with lung cancer last year and has fought for the drug.
The 51-year-old from South Shields was forced to pay for the drug privately until South Tyneside Primary Care Trust agreed to fund two rounds of the drug after three appeals. He said of the decision: “It’s been a long time coming. It is outrageous people have had to fight for it. Hopefully other regions will follow suit now and go through the channels to fund this for patients.”
His wife Deanne, 40, said: “This is a step in the right direction for patients and I hope other regions will follow suit and do the same thing. But I feel angry we have had to fight so hard for this.”
Steve Williamson, Consultant Pharmacist in Cancer Services for the North-East group, said: “We are also very pleased to have worked with the drug company who responded to our request to make the drug more affordable.
“It is an important step forward in the way cancer drugs are approved for use locally and will be a great benefit to cancer patients in the North-East and Cumbria.”
Last year a request for the drug for use as a second or third palliative treatment for patients whose initial treatment had failed was turned down by the North-East and Cumbria Cancer Drug Approvals Group – which is part of the North of England Cancer Network.
At that time, Nice had issued guidance which advised there was no evidence of the drug's cost effectiveness as a second treatment and therefore the North-East Drugs Group could not approve it for use. But last month there was a reprieve as the drugs rationing body decided to rethink its policy following pressure from Cancerbackup and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.
A final decision is not expected until April.
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Tarceva users suffer fewer toxic side effects
TARCEVA offers a good alternative to the existing chemotherapy treatment.
It has fewer toxic side effects and is much more convenient for patients as it is taken as one daily tablet.
Under the decision it can be used when a patient has stopped responding to their initial treatment for non small cell lung cancer.
The North-East and Cumbria Cancer Drugs Approval Group has also considered patients who may have already started a second treatment for lung cancer and has agreed Tarceva will be made available for those patients who are clinically appropriate for treatment and will benefit from the drug.
The drug is not approved for use when two previous different chemotherapy regimes have failed. The approval comes as three regions in the North-East are ranked among the country’s hotspots for a lung disease.
Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead all appear in the top 10 regions where residents have a greater chance of contracting COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
South Tyneside had the highest proportion of people at risk of hospital admission from COPD. People living there are 62% more at risk of hospital admission for lung disease than the UK average.
Dr Judy Thomas, Executive Director of Public Health for NHS South of Tyne and Wear which covers all three areas, said: “We welcome this report from the British Lung Foundation as it highlights COPD and could encourage people to go to their GP if they think they have symptoms.”