David Cameron has been presented with a petition from patients who hope the Prime Minister will intervene to reverse a decision by the UK’s drug watchdog to not make Celgene’s anticancer drug Vidaza available on the National Health Service.

The MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome) UK Patient Support Group and healthcare professional body the MDS UK Forum have presented a 655-signature petition to Mr Cameron asking for “the same standard of care for UK patients with bone marrow diseases as that available throughout most of Europe”. The petition was sparked by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence rejecting Vidaza (azacitidine) last year.

At the time, the agency said Vidaza is a clinically effective, life-extending end-of-life treatment, but decided that it should not be provided through the NHS. NICE concluded that the ICER (incremental cost-effectiveness ratio) would be significantly higher than the manufacturer’s base case scenario of £66,000 per QALY (quality-adjusted life year), and so could not endorse its use, even when taking into account new guidance for appraising end-of-life drugs. An appeal against the decision is bringing brought on June 1.

Petition organiser Dominic Culligan, from the UK MDS Forum, said “we consider azacitidine to be a very valuable resource”, adding that our patients include people who have experienced over seven years survival benefit as a result of receiving this treatment”. He went on to say that “we have undertaken groundbreaking trials here in the UK which have brought significant advances in standards of care for people experiencing MDS” and “if we are denied access to this treatment in future, it will make continuing high quality research here in the UK much more difficult.”

Approximately four in 100,000 people in the UK have MDS, ie debilitating bone-marrow diseases that lead to complications such as recurrent or life-threatening infections or bleeding. While the average survival of patients with MDS is about 20 months, 30% progress to acute myeloid leukaemia, which has an average survival period of a few months only.

This petition is the second to be presented this year to Downing Street in support of Vidaza use. It will be particularly interesting to see the response from Mr Cameron given that in the run-up to the General Election, he promised to set up a £200 million fund “to make sure that if your doctor thinks that you should have a cancer drug that will help you to live a longer and better life you should get that drug”.