Bowel cancer drug banned from use on the NHS – Avastin not 'cost effective'


A bowel cancer drug which many people believe can prolong the lives of patients suffering from bowel cancer has been banned for use in the UK by the NHS rationing body NICE. Their argument is that Avastin – the brand name for the drug Bevacizumab – is too expensive to justify giving bowel cancer patients 'just a few weeks longer to live'.

Yet some experts are already saying that Avastin patients given just weeks to live have in fact lived for up to 4 years after being prescribed Avastin, and could live much longer.

NICE says that the cost of the drug – around £21,000 per patient – doesn’t justify the benefits it brings. Yet Avastin is prescribed to treat bowel cancer in almost every Western country including France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Australia. In the UK, patients have to buy the drug privately or appeal for funding.

So it seems the only hope for sufferers of bowel cancer is to now wait until October when the Government’s new emergency cancer drugs fund will be launched. This fund will make at least £50million available to treat cancer patients with the drugs their hospital or doctor recommends – even if NICE has banned them.

There are 6,500 patients in Britain being treated for bowel cancer, many of whom have the disease at an advanced stage where the cancer has already spread. And yet Avastin has been found to reduce the blood supply that feeds the bowel cancer tumours, making them shrink and stop growing. Avastin is also used to treat breast cancer and lung cancer, but its benefits for bowel cancer patients are in dispute.

Whilst NICE says Avastin adds just an extra 6 weeks of life to sufferers of metastatic colorectal cancer, Dr Sherif Raouf of the private Spire Roding hospital in London disagrees and said: "Avastin is a very safe and well tolerated drug which in my experience prolongs life. It can shrink tumours allowing them to be removed surgically. I am treating patients with Avastin who have lived for 4 years so far, and will hopefully live for many more years. I hope that in the future the drug will enable patients to live for many more years."

Ian Beaumont, the campaigns director of Bowel Cancer UK, said the charity was "disappointed" that NICE had turned down Avastin for use on the NHS when it is "so widely available to patients across the rest of Europe".

And Mike Hobday, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the NICE decision was "devastating news" for patients with advanced bowel cancer.

Barbara Moss, from Worcester, who has advanced bowel cancer, says she is "living proof" that Avastin works: "It seems immoral to me that, as a result of negative NICE decisions like this one, people's choice of living or dying depends on whether they can afford a drug, because it isn't available to them on the NHS."

We can only hope that NICE does a U-turn on its decision to ban Avastin for patients suffering from bowel cancer or that the new cancer drugs fund will ensure that people with advanced bowel cancer get the drugs they need for a better chance of survival.

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