Medical charity Cancer Research UK has issued a plea for the country’s drug cost-effectiveness watchdog – the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence – to reconsider its position on lung cancer drug Alimta.

In June, NICE barred the entry of Eli Lilly's Alimta (pemetrexed) onto the menu of drug’s prescribable under the UK National Health Service, arguing there is a lack of evidence to suggest it is more cost-effective than currently available therapies. Lilly launched Alimta in the UK in late 2005 to treat the symptoms of mesothelioma - a cancer associated with asbestos exposure and mostly affecting the lungs - and as second-line treatment for non-small cell lung cancer.

At an appeal hearing against that ruling – held on Friday – CRUK’s medical director Prof John Toy argued that NICE needed to reconsider the way it had evaluated the drug, which is the only licensed therapy for unresectable mesothelioma in the UK.

“The treatment has been shown to improve survival in randomised trials and is used throughout the world. In July 2005 the Scottish Medicines Consortium recommended that Alimta be used within NHS Scotland,” said Toy.

He also noted that the mesothelioma epidemic will peak between 2010 and 2015 and the number of cases will then decline as the result of the ban on asbestos exposure.

“It would seem perverse to deny patients access to Alimta over this brief period,” said Toy.