UK cancer patients denied new drug

London: A new cancer drug that helps cancer suffers to live longer has been launched in the UK. But it will be another two years before the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which approves drug therapies, will give the go ahead for doctors to prescribe it.

The one-a-day pill gives lung cancer suffers an extra three months of life on average. Tarceva which can be taken at home. In tests, one-year survival rates increased by 43 per cent and there were few side-effects.

It is estimated that 7,500 patients a year could benefit from taking the drug but many will not live long enough to see it win approval for widespread use in the National Health Service.

The leading charity Cancer-BACUP this week criticised NICE for the length of time it takes to approve cancer drugs, of which there are currently 23 in the pipeline.

Doctors are often prepared to prescribe drugs before they get NICE approval but local health trusts often refuse to foot the bill – in the case of Tarceva, £2,000 a month.

NICE blames Government funding cuts of £3.5million for the delays.

The European Medicines Agency has granted a Europewide licence for Tarceva to be used by patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer who have failed on at least one prior chemotherapy treatment. An international trial published in July showed the drug significantly boosted survival rates, as well as reducing symptoms such as breathlessness, pain and coughing.

More than 38,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK, with more than 80 per cent of patients dying within the first year of diagnosis.