At a glance: Fast-tracked drugs poised for PR reward

NICE talks about the 11 new drugs they are going to be putting through its Single Technology Appraisal process and what it means for the brands' comms teams

Is this last week's news from NICE?
Yes, health minister Caroline Flint announced that NICE will put 11 drugs used to treat conditions from multiple sclerosis to psoriasis, asthma and a variety of cancers, through its Single Technology Appraisal (STA) process.

What's the advantage of the STA programme?
It's faster, which means drugs such as Roche's Tarceva (non-small-cell lung cancer), Novartis's Xolair (asthma) and Pfizer's Campto (advanced colorectal cancer) could be approved for NHS use earlier than would otherwise be the case.

This is, presumably, a boost for the brands' comms teams?
Probably, but PROs will be wary of jumping on the bandwagon. As one pharma PR executive puts it: ‘Bullish is one thing, but you don't want to be foolhardy.' Expect PROs to first concentrate on adjustments to the timetables of their existing campaigns.

Is the caution because the appraisals might still fail?
Possibly. But the fact that these brands have been chosen for fast-tracking suggests there is confidence in them. Perhaps more important is the perennial problem of not being seen to raise patient hopes without good cause.

Is there a political angle here, too?
A cynic might suggest that the Government is keen to avoid being tarred with so-called ‘NICE blight'. Last year's furore over the ‘postcode lottery' aspect of Roche's breast-cancer drug Herceptin showed the sensitivity of these issues. Projecting the image of NICE as quick and nimble rather than bureaucratic and cumbersome will not do it, nor the Department of Health, any harm.

What else is on the STA list?
Biogen and Elan Pharmaceuticals' Tysabri, which is used to treat MS, and Merck's Erbitux are among the others.

But NICE recently said Erbitux isn't cost-effective, didn't it?
That was for advanced bowel cancer (PRWeek, 1 Sep) - this is regarding its use for recurrent metastatic head and neck cancer.

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