NICE’s recommendation last week for the use of Sutent for advanced kidney cancer was warmly welcomed by patients and healthcare professionals alike, but now experts are saying that the new guidance is misleading, because, they say, in reality only a portion of patients are allowed access.

NICE’s press release states that it is recommending the use of Sutent (sunitinib) as a first-line treatment option in patients with advanced and/or metastatic renal cell carcinoma for those who are suitable for immunotherapy. But experts argue that the way the press release was crafted failed to make clear that patients who had already received prior treatment with an interferon would not be getting access to the drug.

According to legal expert Mark McGhee, a partner at Linder Myers Solicitors in Manchester: “If these guidelines stand, then from our initial assessment at least 60% of those suffering from renal cancer will continue to be denied access to this life-sustaining drug from the NHS.” And Prof Karol Sikora, a leading cancer specialist, said: “The exclusion of patients that have already had interferon is just mean. It all adds to the considerable emotional torment many of our patients and their families are facing.”

But Rose Woodward, founder of the Kidney Cancer Support Network, told PharmaTimes UK News that patients who have already used interferon will not, in fact, be excluded from treatment with Sutent.

In a letter to the Network, NICE has clarified that the "guidance on first-line use of sunitinib has been developed on the understanding that the currently available treatment for advanced and/or metastatic renal cell carcinoma is immunotherapy (namely interferon-alfa and interleukin-2)", but "sunitinib can be considered as a treatment option for those people with advanced and/or metastatic RCC who are currently receiving immunotherapy or who have had immunotherapy before the release of our final recommendations to ensure they are not disadvantaged by our decision".

Furthermore, in contrast to Prof Sikora position that "many PCTs will still not be allowing [Sutent's] prescription," Rose says she "believes the advice from NICE will adhered to," and warns: "if we discover any PCTs trying to prevent any kidney cancer patient from accessing sunitinib, then we will come down on them like a ton of bricks."