At a Glance

Roche readies messages on cancer drug appeal

Is this about NICE's rejection of Tarceva?

Yes, pharma group Roche is to appeal against NICE's 'final' decision not to recommend one of its cancer drugs for NHS use on cost and effectiveness grounds. Tarceva is used to treat lung cancer patients.

Who handles PR for the brand? 

Ketchum has the UK account for Tarceva. Greg Page is Roche's senior PR strategy manager and oversees the business. The main comms messages are that Tarceva is cost-effective and that there is a body of evidence to support its clinical effectiveness.

Anything else? 

Roche's other beef is that NICE must be more transparent about the way it assesses costs. The manufacturer believes Tarceva would be judged value for money if a number of other factors - such as the fact that it can be administered at home, rather than in a hospital setting - are taken into account. Patient group Macmillan Cancer Support was also up in arms over the decision. And Tarceva was approved a year ago by the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which means that patients in Scotland have access to the drug. While not quite the same as so-called 'postcode prescribing', the SMC decision does mean that NICE has come under reputational fire.

But wasn't there an issue over pricing? 

Roche did cut the price of Tarceva by about 25 per cent last October. This made it the same price as its main rival, Sanofi-Aventis' chemotherapy treatment Taxotere, which is approved for use. But Roche said this was nothing to do with any doubts over its cost-effectiveness; rather, it was to ensure patients weren't denied Tarceva while it was going through the NICE process.

Hasn't NICE just been hauled up over costings? 

That's right. In a landmark case, the High Court ruled last week that NICE must provide open access to the fiscal method by which it approves medicines. This could have direct relevance to Roche's appeal. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry issued a statement welcoming this ruling, saying it would help ensure the right medicines reach the right patients.

What is the timetable? 

Roche has until 9 May to give NICE grounds for challenging the decision. If the company makes an effective case, it would probably have until July to make a second appeal.

Further information www.roche.com.

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