Patients with pancreatic cancer living in Wales will no doubt welcome news that Celgene’s Abraxane will continue to be available on the National Health Service in the country, despite a decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to reject its use.

NICE confirmed back in November that Celgene’s Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel) will not be routinely funded for use in combination with gemcitabine for treating pancreatic cancer on the NHS in England and Wales, claiming that the drug’s cost does not justify its benefit to patients.

During the appraisal process, the Institute said while the Abraxane/gemcitabine combination was more effective than the latter drug alone, it resulted in more serious side effects, and also caused more adverse events than a gemcitabine/capecitabine regimen despite having similar effectiveness.

However, in a rare move, the Welsh government has now stepped in to ensure continued access for metastatic pancreatic cancer patients in Wales, on the back of data from the MPACT (Metastatic Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Clinical Trial) study, which showed an increase in median overall survival of 1.8 months with Abraxane in combination with gemcitabine, when compared to gemcitabine alone. 

“In light of the clear clinical need and the potential for the drug to have a positive impact on a patient population of between 400 and 500 people in Wales, the Welsh Government has reached an agreement with Abraxane’s manufacturer Celgene to secure continued access for Welsh patients,” it said in a statement.

Ali Stunt, founder and chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer Action, said the chartiy is delighted with the decision, but also stressed that it “amplifies inequality across the UK, as unlike metastatic pancreatic cancer patients in Wales or Scotland, those in England have no means of accessing Abraxane, in combination with gemcitabine, via the NHS”. 

“Pancreatic cancer is the fifth biggest cancer killer in the UK and we call on NICE to reconsider its decision and enable English patients to have equal access to Abraxane, in combination with gemcitabine.”