At a glance: Bowel cancer charities set to rethink comms

Is this after the Erbitux appeal, by any chance?
Yes, NICE last week turned down the appeal – by Erbitux manu­facturer Merck Pharmaceuticals and two charities – to make the bowel cancer drug available on the NHS. NICE in effect has upheld its own decision, taken in August 2006, that the £700 a week price tag was not value for money.

So cost was the big issue?
Indeed, since Erbitux is used elsewhere in the EU and its efficacy is not in question – it has been proven to reduce tumour size in patients at an advanced stage of the disease. On that basis, Cancer Research UK is calling for NICE’s funding calculations to be put under review and said that the Erbitux decision was ‘extremely worrying’. Part of its media campaign will then be centred around the need for a public debate on just how much the NHS should be spending on its individual cancer patients.

What about the charities that appealed?
As part of its comms efforts, Bowel Cancer UK – which conducted the joint appeal with Cancerbackup – is to launch what it calls a patient campaigning pack, which will offer patients advice on different ways in which they can make their case for treatment heard through the media, MPs and legally. Ian Beaumont, director of press, PR and public affairs, said it will be launched in time for April’s Bowel Cancer Awareness month. Cancerbackup has issued a release expressing its disappointment at the appeal decision.

How have other charities’ comms teams responded?
Beating Bowel Cancer this week launched its Bowel Cancer 2012 Challenge, which aims to raise awareness of the condition and to recognise the importance of providing sufferers with extra months of quality life.

And where is Merck itself in all this?
It has just passed UK comms for colorectal oncology products, which include Erbitux, to Red Door Communications. Deputy MD Julia Harries, who oversees the account, says the agency ‘will be supporting the firm in the coming year on a whole range of PR and medical education initiatives’. Merck says it will continue to work with patient groups and healthcare professionals to increase under­standing of treatment options.

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