Leading oncologists in the UK have recommended the use of Pfizer’s Sutent as a primary weapon against kidney cancer, in the first ever independent clinical guidelines on the systemic treatment of the disease.

The guidelines, written by five leading renal oncologists and supported by an additional 25 from across the nation, are published in the British Journal of Hospital of Medicine, and come just weeks after the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issued its own seal of approval for the drug, after finding it to be a cost-effective use of National Health Service resources in that setting.

The Institute had originally ruled that Sutent (sunitinib) – which costs an average of £24,168 per patient per year – was too expensive for the NHS, but a lowering of the cost-effectiveness threshold for end-of-life drugs, as well as Pfizer’s offer to pay for the first cycle of treatment with the drug (which costs an average of £3,139), helped drive a turnaround.

Sutent offers a double-pronged attack against cancer in that it prevents cell multiplication as well as cuts off blood supply to the tumour, and clinical trials have demonstrated its ability to more than double progression-free survival in patients compared to standard therapy with interferon-alfa.

Clinical benefits
In addition, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on Monday showed that treatment with the drug achieved a median overall survival of more than two years in kidney cancer patients, further underscoring its potential clinical benefits.

More than 7,000 cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year, and around 3,600 people lose their lives to the disease, so new and effective treatments are urgently needed to help improve patients’ prognoses.

Pfizer claims that just 33% of Primary Care Trusts were funding therapy with Sutent (to some extent) before NICE issued its recommendations, but since then 90% of PCTs have promised full funding for treatment, which is good news for patients as it shows the drug is becoming more readily available throughout the UK. Furthermore, it is hoped that the independent clinical guidelines published this month will make Sutent the new standard of care for treating the disease.

According to one of the lead authors Professor John Wagstaff, Professor and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology, South Wales Cancer Institute, Swansea, the new independent clinical guidelines will, along with recently published NICE guidance, "ensure that kidney cancer patients across the UK will have access to the most beneficial treatment available to them".