The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has published final guidance recommending the use of Pfizer’s cancer drug Sutent (sunitinib) for patients with kidney cancer.

Specifically, the Institute has deemed the drug a cost-effective use of National Health Service resources as a first-line treatment option for people with advanced and/or metastatic renal cell carcinoma who are suitable for immunotherapy, the current standard of treatment.

However, so as not to disadvantage treatment-experienced patients, NICE has stressed that Sutent can be given to those who started a course of immunotherapy before its final guidance was issued.

The decision was expected since the Institute published a final appraisal determination earlier this year overturning its previous rejection of the drug. The change of heart was brought about by a lowering of the cost-effectiveness threshold for so-called end-of-life drugs, as well as Pfizer’s offer of a pricing scheme under which it promised to pay for the first cycle of Sutent treatment - which costs an average of £3,139 – to help reduce the financial strain on the NHS.

Proven benefits
The inclusion of Sutent in the NHS’ kidney cancer arsenal will no doubt be welcome news for patients and campaigners, given that clinical trials have demonstrated the drug’s ability to more than double progression-free survival compared to standard therapy with interferon-alfa.

“After two and half years of campaigning we are delighted with this news and hope that primary care trusts will move quickly to implement the NICE guidance and ensure these deserving and distressed patients get access to a treatment that will allow them the chance of precious extra life,” commented Pat Hanlon from Kidney Cancer UK.

All eyes will, however, now be on NICE’s pending appraisal of Roche’s Avastin (bevacizumab), Bayer’s Nexavar (sorafenib) and Wyeth’s Torisel (temsirolimus) as first-line options for kidnesy cancer and Nexavar and Sutent as second-line treatments, for which guidance is expected later this year.