Patients with early-stage colon cancer have been given the go-ahead to receive treatment with Roche’s oral drug Xeloda (capecitabine) a full nine months before the drug is scheduled to go before the National Institute of Clinical Excellence in England and Wales.

Earlier this week, the Scottish Medicines Consortium gave approval for doctors to prescribe the drug for patients with early-stage colon cancer that has spread locally despite surgery, but NICE is not due to deliver its own verdict on this new use until May 2006, according to UK medical charity Colon Cancer Concern.

Xeloda has already been cleared by both NICE and the SMC for patients with advanced colon cancer, before they undergo surgery or if surgery is not a treatment option [[28/05/03c]] [[12/03/03f]]. However, Colon Cancer Concern estimates that there are several thousand patients with early-stage cancer in England and Wales who could benefit from adjuvant treatment with the drug.

In a statement, the SMC said that allowing doctors to prescribe this oral medication in the place of alternative, injectable treatments “allow changes to the way which treatment is given that may benefit individual patients or the health service delivering their care.” And while the drug is more expensive, it “appears to be as least as effective as standard intravenous 5-fluorouracil/folinic acid chemotherapy, with the convenience of oral administration,” the SMC added.

This profile is driving sales of Xeloda globally. Roche reported a 49% hike in revenues from the drug in the first half of this year to 355 million Swiss francs [[20/07/05a]].

NICE stressed that oncologists in England and Wales are free to prescribe Xeloda at their own discretion ahead of its formal review, and primary care trusts can develop their own protocols for deciding which patients are eligible. However, these will have to be brought into line with NICE’s findings, once published.