Merck’s Erbitux is being recommended for routine NHS use to treat recurrent or metastatic squamous cell cancer of the head and neck.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published final guidance backing the drug’s use to treat the condition, but only if the cancer started in the oral cavity and the company provides at the discount outlined in a confidential commercial access agreement with NHS England.

Erbitux (cetuximab) is the standard of care for patients with recurrent/metastatic cancer of the head/neck who have no treatment alternatives beyond chemotherapy, and oral cavity patients are recognised as a group with a particularly high unmet need, as they have a poorer prognosis than patients with tumours in other locations.

The appraisal was a Cancer Drugs Fund reconsideration of NICE's technology guidance on Erbitux for recurrent and/or metastatic squamous cell cancer of the head and neck (SCCHN), which moves the drug into the NHS' routine commissioning stream.

Earlier this year, the Institute also expanded the scope of Erbitux within colorectal cancer, backing its use in combination with either FOLFIRI or FOLFOX as a first-line treatment for patients with RAS wild-type mCRC. Previous guidance recommended the drug in combination with either FOLFOX or FOLFIRI solely for patients whose cancer had spread only to the liver.