The UK body charged with ruling on the cost-effectiveness of medicines said yesterday that Roche’s antibody drug MabThera can be prescribed on the National Health Service of England and Wales as a first-line treatment for follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The National Institute of health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) had previously said MabThera (rituximab) should only be used in patients who had failed to respond to existing treatments for NHL.

The Institute updated its guidance in light of clinical data showing that the addition of MabThera to standard chemotherapy significantly lengthened the time to treatment failure to 27 months, compared to seven months with chemotherapy alone, and more than doubled time to disease progression (32 versus 15 months).

The MabThera guidance is the second to come through the recently implemented fast-track system at NICE, put in place after NICE came amid pressure from patients with early-stage breast cancer who were trying to secure access to Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab).