The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) took a break from controversy this morning after it endorsed the use of aromatase inhibitors in patients with early breast cancer.

The cost-effectiveness watchdog, charged with deciding which drugs should be available on prescription in England and Wales, said that aromatase inhibitors should be made available to the 23,000 or so women diagnosed with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer every year.

News that drugs such as AstraZeneca’s Arimidex (anastrozole), Novartis’ Femara (letrozole) and Pfizer’s Aromasin (exemestane) can now be given straight after surgery for early breast cancer was welcomed by Professor Jeffrey Tobias, professor of cancer medicine at University College London, although he took a swipe at the time it takes for the agency delivers its judgments.

“We’ve been waiting for NICE’s guidance for nearly two years,” said Prof Tobias. This “should finally put an end to the postcode lottery for aromatase inhibitors…which have been shown to greatly improve women’s chances of not having a breast cancer recurrence, over and above the benefit seen with tamoxifen.”

“This recommendation brings the UK into line with most Western European nations, where aromatase inhibitors have already become the gold standard treatment,” he added.

NICE is already under fire over its decisions, with Pfizer and Eisai saying earlier this week that they intend to challenge its decision to restrict access to Alzheimer’s disease drugs in the courts.