New cancer drug boost

The Mouth Cancer Foundation has come a step closer to making sure all patients suffering from the disease have access to a new drug, currently not widely available on the NHS.

The drug in question is called Cetuximab and is a new cancer treatment available in Scotland since July 2006, but not England and Wales at present.

It is hoped that cetuximab, in combination with radiotherapy, can be used as an alternative in mouth cancer patients for whom chemoradiotheraphy is inappropriate.

The charity successfully convinced the Appeal Panel of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to ask its Appraisal Committee’s to reconsider its appraisal decision to ban the drug for head and neck cancer patients in England and Wales. The appraisal has now been returned to the committee.

Four members of the Mouth Cancer Foundation, Mrs Brenda Brady, Mr John Spencer, Mrs Christine Piff and Mr Mike Cummins, provided the Appeal Panel with accounts of the suffering caused by head and neck cancer and of the very unpleasant nature of their treatments. They stressed that it was important for the Institute to take patients’ views into account.

This the Appeal Panel did, and the debate centred on the efficacy of cetuximab. Currently both carboplatin and cisplatin are used for chemoradiotheraphy in the United Kingdom with horrific side effects. Carboplatin had fewer adverse effects than cisplatin, but was more likely to suppress the bone-marrow. Therefore, cisplatin was the preferred treatment. The Appraisal Committee accepted that cetuximab plus radiotherapy caused less severe adverse effects than either of the platinum-based chemoradiotherapy regimens.

The Appeal Panel considered that the Appraisal Committee had not given appropriate consideration to the issue of whether a chemoradiotherapy regimen of carboplatin alone was as effective as cisplatin, or that a regimen consisting of carboplatin plus fluorouracil would necessarily be suitable for the population identified in the decision problem in whom cisplatin was contra-indicated. The Panel found that, as a result, the Committee’s conclusions were perverse in proposing a ‘carboplatin-based’ regimen for those in whom cisplatin was contra-indicated.

The Founder of the Mouth Cancer Foundation, Dr Vinod Joshi said: The Mouth Cancer Foundation is delighted that the decision has been referred back the final appraisal determination to the Committee for reconsideration.’

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