Medical charity Cancer Research UK has said it is ‘deeply disappointed’ by a preliminary decision by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence not to support the prescribing of two drugs for lung cancer on the National Health Service.

The NICE published a draft verdict on the use of Roche’s Tarceva (erlotinib) and Eli Lilly’s Alimta (pemetrexed) to treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer yesterday, concluding that there is no evidence the drug is more cost-effective than the older treatment docetaxel.

In a statement, Nice's chief executive, Andrew Dillon said: "Our initial assessment of the evidence shows that neither of these drugs represents a good use of scarce NHS resources."

“The available evidence on both erlotinib and pemetrexed shows they do not provide better overall survival or progression-free survival than the other commonly used but less expensive alternative,” he added.

Roche said that clinical trials have shown Tarceva can increase one-year survival rates in patients with NSCLC by 42%, adding that it hoped the NICE would reconsider its position throughout the remainder of the review process.

“NICE reports a lack of direct evidence about the benefits of Tarceva compared with the drug docetaxel but lack of evidence does not mean evidence of a lack of benefit,” commented Cancer Research UK chief executive Prof Alex Markham.

Tarceva is used as a standard treatment in many other European countries, he added, and is also available to certain patients in Scotland. “It would be incomprehensible for such a drug to be available to patients in Edinburgh but not Newcastle,” said Markham.