The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is supporting the use of Napp Pharmaceuticals' Levact for the treatment of patients with leukaemia on the National Health Service in England and Wales.

The Institute has published draft guidance this morning endorsing Levact (bendamustine) as a first-line treatment for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia who cannot take fludarabine combination chemotherapy, skipping the intermediate stage of the appraisals process because of the strength of the evidence of the drug's efficacy provided, in the hope of speeding up access for patients.

According to NICE, Levact was shown to slow the growth and spread of the cancer by over 13 months (on average) more than chlorambucil - the only other drug available for those unable to take fludarabine chemotherapy - which "more than justifies the extra cost that the NHS will need to pay for the treatment, which in itself is low".

Tony Gavin, Director of Cancer Campaigning and Patient Advocacy at Leukaemia CARE, said the positive recommendation "is great news for patients", especially as treatment options are so limited, and he stressed that Levact "can and will help to make a real difference to people’s lives".

Based on the natural anticancer properties of the mustard seed, Napp says its drug has a unique mode of action as it combines the properties of two different types of chemotherapy - alkylating agents and purine analogues – offering a multi-pronged attack on cancer, which also seems to make treatment resistance less likely.

Around 2,400 people are diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in the UK each year, and Levact is also approved for use in low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the front line treatment of elderly patients with neuropathy due to multiple myeloma who are considered not suitable for transplant.