AT A GLANCE: Spotlight on NICE over Pfizer’s Suteant appraisal

PRWEEK: Isn’t this the kidney cancer treatment?

NICE: That’s right. Pfizer’s Sutent, the UK launch of which last year was handled by specialist healthcare PR agency Reynolds-Mackenzie, has been the subject of a number of stories in the past few weeks. NICE is just beginning its appraisal of the product on renal cell carcinoma, or kidney cancer.

PRWEEK: What’s the thrust of media interest?

NICE: While it has been approved as a treatment, the drug is not recommended for use on the NHS. A month’s course costs £3,500 but, despite this, some primary care trusts (PCTs) offer it to cancer sufferers, so the dreaded ‘postcode lottery’ has again reared its ugly head. It has been approved in the US and major European markets.

PRWEEK: But why is the drug suddenly so high profile?

NICE: Last week Conservative MEP Chris Heaton-Harris asked whether the refusal of Warwickshire PCT to give Sutent to one of his constituents might be an offence under European anti-discrimination laws. The patient, Russ Jones, is dying and funding his own treatment.

PRWEEK: Has there been any other coverage?

NICE: Perhaps the best-known kidney cancer patient is ex-Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson, who died last month, and had to raise money to pay for his Sutent treatment. Wilson made the point that certain cosmetic surgery procedures are available free on the NHS but that this potentially life-prolonging drug is not.

PRWEEK: So, what’s happening now?

NICE: In another twist, Biotech firm Oxford BioMedica is offering the drug free to patients who take part in phase III trials at 14 locations across the UK. Sutent will be used in combination with its own product, TroVax. Northbank Communications handles health and scientific media relations for Oxford BioMedica.

PRWEEK: Is Sutent a cure?

NICE: No, but it prolongs life, in some cases doubling life expectancy by slowing tumour growth.

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