Waiting on NICE decision, Pfizer provides breast cancer drug for free

Pfizer is to make its breast cancer drug Ibrance (palbociclib) available for free to NHS patients while it waits for a final decision on the drug’s cost-effectiveness.

The drug has been hailed as one of the most important advances against breast cancer in the last 20 years – but cost effectiveness watchdog NICE rejected it back in February in first draft guidance.

Ibrance has a list price of £79,650 for a full course and is given as a once-daily capsule with an aromatase inhibitor, in first line for hormone receptor positive, human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 negative, locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

Around 6,000 patients could be eligible for treatment across the UK each year. NICE found that the drug stalled growth of the cancer for an extra 10 months on average, but its independent committee concluded that although this was likely to improve overall survival, this could not be quantified from available clinical trial data.

NICE rejected the drug because of the way it looks at “add-on” therapies, where the cost of the established treatment forms the basis of the assessment, along with the newer drug such as Ibrance.

But it has emerged that Pfizer is making the drug available for free to NHS patients across the UK.

The charity Breast Cancer Now communicated the news to patients via social media, and the story has since gained attention from national news organisations.

The charity is calling for both organisations to work together to ensure Ibrance is available to NHS patients in the longer term. It is calling for Pfizer to drop its price, and for NICE to be more flexible in its assessment.

The charity said in a statement: “While this news is very welcome, it is a short-term fix. We still need a long term solution.”

Pfizer clarified that is also making the drug available to patients in Scotland, until the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) makes a separate decision about whether Ibrance should be NHS-funded north of the border.

The company said that Ibrance will also be available to patients in Wales and Northern Ireland, which usually follow NICE’s recommendations.

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company believes women with metastatic breast cancer deserve access to the drug as soon as possible.

The programme will close six weeks after NICE has issued final guidance for the routine use of palbociclib, or on the 30th September 2017, whichever is earlier, Pfizer added.

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