The Scottish Medicines Consortium has ruled that Merck KGaA’s cancer drug Erbitux should be made available on prescription to patients with head and neck cancer, an indication which was approved by the European Commission in March.

Erbitux has been cleared for restricted use in the National Health Service in Scotland, specifically for treating patients with locally advanced squamous cell cancer of the head and neck, in combination with radiotherapy, who for some reason cannot take first-line chemotherapy.

The SMC’s swift action on extending the uses for which doctors can prescribe Erbitux in Scotland will likely add to pressure on the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, which has the same function south of the border, to speed up its own review process. NICE is not due to rule on the new use for the drug until February 2007.

Dr Elizabeth Junor, consultant clinical oncologist, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, commented, “Approval [of Erbitux] has been given for patients not suitable for chemotherapy in combination with radiotherapy. It is hoped that the rest of the UK will soon follow suit with the SMC’s decision.”