Oncologists in the UK have reacted with dismay to an interim report by the country’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which suggests that it will not support the prescription of two drugs for brain cancer on the National Health Service.

The NICE said more evidence was needed that the two drugs – Schering-Plough’s Temodal (temozolomide) and Gliadel Wafer (carmustine) sold by Link Pharmaceuticals – were cost-effective in the treatment of newly-diagnosed patients with a type of brain cancer known as glioma.

“Carmustine implants and temozolomide are not recommended for use in the NHS except in the context of clinical trials,” said the agency in documents published in December 2005. The NICE appraisal committee are to reconvene on February 28 for their second and final meeting that will determine the NHS availability of these treatments.

But the stance taken by NICE has angered doctors who feel access to the drugs under the NHS is critical as glioma patients have few treatment options. Now, 36 oncologists have written to UK Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to ask her to intervene in the process.

Professor Roy Rampling, professor of neuro-oncology at The Beatson Oncology Centre, Western Infirmary, Glasgow, said: “NICE simply got it wrong. They haven't appropriately evaluated the evidence which shows how a drug like Temodal (which was invented by Cancer Research UK) not only increases survival rates but maintains quality of life for people with brain tumours.

Meanwhile, the Samantha Dickson Research Trust, Brain Tumour UK and the International Brain Tumour Alliance have said they are ‘outraged' at the recommendation, which thy claim would prevent 2,000 patients in the UK each year from receiving ‘vital and effective treatment’.