Charities are teaming up to protest against a recommendation by the UK’s health and cost-effectiveness watchdog to turn down Celgene's multiple myeloma drug Revlimid.

In an appraisal consultation document, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has recommended against making Revlimid (lenalidomide), in combination with dexamethasone, available on the National Health Service for patients with MM who have received at least one prior therapy. NICE clinical and public health director Peter Littlejohns stated that the "committee did not accept the manufacturer's claim that lenalidomide is cost effective because it felt that they had overestimated the extension to life expectancy gained with lenalidomide treatment”.

A month's supply of Revlimid, taken once-a-day, costs £4,368 and a year's treatment can cost between £36,000 and £69,000. Prof Littlejohns noted that NICE has to decide what drugs represent the best value for the NHS, and if Revlimid was given the thumbs-up, “other patients would lose out on treatments that are both clinically and cost effective”.

However this argument is cutting no ice with charities. Eric Low, chief executive of Myeloma UK, said “NICE is explicit in its draft recommendation that Revlimid is clinically effective; to reject it purely on cost alone is unacceptable”. He added that this is “yet another instance of patients losing out because NICE and the pharmaceutical company have failed to achieve excellence in what they do.”

Mr Low went on to say that “there is now a window of opportunity for NICE and the company to demonstrate they are capable of dealing with a complex appraisal and righting this wrong decision for patients. We urge the company, NICE and the Department of Health to find a way to reduce the cost of Revlimid for the NHS; for this to remain a ‘no’ is simply not an option”.

The draft recommendation is now open for public consultation until November 18. NICE will review the comments it receives and make its final recommendation in January.

Celgene said it is disappointed but “although devastating for patients, this is only a preliminary recommendation” and the company is committed to working with NICE, the Department of Health and the myeloma community to ensure that the final guidance will be positive.