Kidney cancer patients in the UK will be welcoming news that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended the use of Pfizer’s Sutent on the National Health Service, after initially saying no to the drug last year.

The cost watchdog issued a Final Appraisal Document yesterday endorsing Sutent (sunitinib) for use as a first-line treatment in advanced and/or metastatic renal cell carcinoma for patients who are suitable for immunotherapy.

In September last year the Institute had turned down the drug, as well as another three for kidney cancer - Avastin (bevacizumab), Nexavar (sorafenib) and Torisel (temsirolimus) - on grounds that, while clinically effective, they were not considered to be a cost effective use of NHS resources.

But following an extension to the acceptable cost threshold of so-called end-of-life drugs, as well as a new pricing agreement with Pfizer to sweeten the deal, NICE has reversed its decision with regard to Sutent, although it is still considering its position on the other three kidney cancer treatments.

In yet another example of the new wave of pricing and risk-sharing agreements drugmakers are using to get their products onto the UK market, Pfizer will pick up the tab for the first cycle of treatment with Sutent - which costs an average of £3,139 - thus reducing the financial strain on the NHS. Just a few days ago, NICE announced it had changed its mind about Celgene's blood cancer drug Revlimid (lenalidomide), after the drumaker agreed to pay for any treatment needed after the first two years.

‘Important step’
Commenting on the recommendation, Garry Nicholson, President and General Manager, Oncology Business Unit, Pfizer, said it is “an important step forward for kidney cancer patients and also for physicians in the UK who now have a proven treatment option for this difficult-to-treat cancer.”

And Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's Chief Clinician, also welcomed the news. “This drug can make an important difference for people who have few other options for treatment, adding vital months to their life,” he said.

But he went on to stress that the charity is “disappointed” that kidney cancer patients not able to take Sutent are still waiting to hear whether NICE will make a U-turn on its decision to reject Avastin, Nexavar and Torisel. “We very much hope this decision will be made soon, and that one or more of these treatments too will become available.”