AT A GLANCE: Avastin comms focus on ‘passport prescribing’

A quick look at the comms angle behind Roche's cancer drug Avastin...

Avastin – isn’t that the cancer drug?
Yes, Roche’s brand is licensed in the UK for breast and bowel cancer. Last week it had a boost in the High Court when bowel cancer sufferer Victoria Otley won a ruling forcing Barking and Dagenham PCT to pay for the Avastin she needed. The judge called its previous decision not to do so on cost grounds ‘flawed and irrational’.

OK, so where does ‘passport prescribing’ come in?
‘Postcode prescribing’ describes the differences in availability of drugs depending on where you live in the UK. But Roche’s comms around Avastin will concentrate on pointing up the disparity in access to life-extending and life-saving cancer treatment from country to country. For example, Avastin is more freely available in the US and France – hence ‘postcode prescribing’.

Any figures on that? And who handles the PR?
Roche says Avastin, which costs about £1,200 per cycle, is used in 60 per cent of patients in the US for first line metastatic bowel cancer, but only a ‘handful’ of NHS patients. Ketchum works on Avastin in the UK – along with Herceptin, Tarceva and Xeloda, which are also from Roche’s oncology portfolio. Galliard Healthcare Communications has the global account for Avastin.

Is that it for comms?
No. Greg Page, Roche’s senior PR strat­egy manager, says the company wants to start a ‘healthy debate’ on cancer fun­ding. He says the UK spend has been 25 to 33 per cent lower than the Euro­p­ean average for the last ten years and that France spends nearly two and a half times what the UK does on cancer drugs per cap­ita. Earlier this year a report from the Roche-funded Karolinska Institute in Sweden claimed patients in coun­t­ries that spend more money on cancer treat­ments have a better chance of surviving.

What’s on the horizon?
The EU’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use this month recommended Avastin for the treatment of lung cancer. Mean­while, Roche and other manu­­facturers of oncology products will be looking with interest at the Depart­ment of Health’s cancer reform strategy, due out in autumn this year, which is expec­ted to focus on advances in cancer-fighting drugs and rising expectations among the public.

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