The UK's cost watchdog has recommended expanded use of Roche's lymphoma drug MabThera.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has issued new draft guidance which recommends MabThera (rituximab) as a first-line maintenance treatment in people with follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that has responded to first-line induction therapy with rituximab in combination with chemotherapy.

NICE notes that standard clinical practice for these patients, around 1,600 in the UK, is for doctors to wait for the cancer to grow again following successful induction therapy, before giving them further treatment. However evidence presented by Roche and advice from clinical specialists suggest that treating patients with MabThera maintenance after induction therapy "can prevent the spread and growth of this cancer by three to four years".

Value for money

The Institute added that Roche's "economic modelling also convinced the committee that first-line rituximab maintenance treatment for these patients could be a cost-effective use of National Health Service resources compared with current clinical practice". Peter Littlejohns, clinical and public health director at NICE, said that "alongside its proven clinical effectiveness", the appraisal committee has also established that MabThera as a first-line treatment "offers value for money for the NHS".

Roche noted that providing extended treatment with rituximab every two months for up to two years "almost halves the risk of relapse after three years, compared with the current practice of observation". It added that importantly, the drug provides these benefits without significantly impacting patients’ quality of life.

The Scottish Medicines Consortium granted approval for rituximab as a first-line maintenance therapy for patients in Scotland in February.