The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has agreed to recommend the use of Roche’s Tarceva on the National Health Service as a treatment for lung cancer after the Switzerland-based firm agreed to reduce the price.

NICE has issued final guidance recommending making Tarceva (erlotinib), which is co-marketed with OSI Pharmaceuticals, available on the NHS as an alternative to Sanofi-Aventis' Taxotere (docetaxel) for the second-line treatment of patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer. However the go-ahead is based on the condition that overall treatment costs for the product are equal to those for Taxotere. The announcement reverses a previous NICE decision against recommending the drug.

Peter Littlejohns, clinical and public health director at NICE noted Roche “proposed an arrangement making the drug available to the NHS in England and Wales on a discounted basis”. He added that because erlotinib is given in tablet form, patients spend less time in hospital receiving treatment.

Prof Littlejohns went on to say that "this guidance is therefore good news for lung cancer patients who have already tried one chemotherapy regimen that has not worked." Tarceva is the first EGFR-targeted agent for advanced NSCLC to be recommended by NICE, but the latter stressed that the drug is not recommended as a second-line therapy for patients who are intolerant of Taxotere, or as a third-line treatment after therapy with the Sanofi drug.

The new price for a 125-day course of Tarceva is £6,128 compared with £6,800 previously and the recommendation means that patients in England, Wales and Northern Ireland now have access to a treatment that has been available for some time in most other European countries, including Scotland.