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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 00:11 GMT
NHS advisers 'set to back' cancer drugs

Taxanes have been shown to be effective
An NHS body testing the cost-effectiveness of treatments may be preparing to endorse cancer drugs currently withheld from many women.

However, the Department of Health has indicated that no extra money will be made available to fund the drugs.

It is acknowledged medical best practice to use a group of drugs called taxanes in the treatment of ovarian and some breast cancer cases.

However, some women have found their health authorities unwilling to pay for the drugs, which cost thousands of pounds a year.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence was set up by the government to examine all the evidence about new and existing drugs, then recommend whether the NHS should pay for them.

According to Hospital Doctor newspaper, the preliminary report of the committee of experts set up to look at taxanes says that the NHS should pay for them in two circumstances.

Prolongs Life

The drug Taxol, it says, will be approved in combination with other drugs as the treatment of choice for ovarian cancer.

And another similar drug, Taxotere, should be given to breast cancer patients whose cancer has returned following initial treatment.

Studies have shown that using Taxol to treat ovarian cancer prolongs life expectancy by an average of 10 months. The drug costs approximately 7,500 a year.

Funding Taxol and Taxotere across the NHS will cost 50m a year.

NICE is expected to finalise its report on taxanes by the end of this March.

However, a Department of Health spokeswoman told Hospital Doctor health authorities would have to find the money to meet any NICE recommendations from existing budgets.

NICE was created by the government to make sure patients are not treated differently from one health authority to the next.

So far, it has recommended that anti-flu drug Relenza is not available on the NHS.

NICE recommendations are not in themselves binding, with Health Secretary Alan Milburn having the final say, although it is unlikely that he will go against the recommendation of a body created by his own government.

Other drugs currently under examination by NICE include beta interferon, the controversial MS drug.

NICE has been told to consider the affordability of drugs before it finalises its guidance.

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See also:

06 Aug 99 | Health
Drugs body sets agenda
24 Oct 99 | Health
Milburn: End cancer 'lottery'
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