‘Breakthrough’ lung cancer drug made available on NHS

Tagrisso, (Osimertinib), a last-chance drug produced by AstraZeneca that can lead to an “unprecedented” reduction in lung cancer tumours is now available on the NHS thanks to the newly updated Cancer Drugs Fund rules which allow a promising drug to be used while still in trial evaluation.

The once-a-day tablet will be available immediately for patients with non-small-cell lung cancer with the mutation, known as EGFR T790M-positive, a stage where patients are no longer responding to earlier treatments.

Prof Carole Longson, the director of the health technology valuation centre at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, (NICE), said  “People with this particular type of lung cancer usually have distressing symptoms and their disease can progress very quickly. Osimertinib is clinically effective in the short term. However, we do not have the full picture yet and we need more information on its long-term benefits to find out if it is truly cost-effective.

“For the first time, we are able to give patients access to a promising new cancer treatment whilst more evidence is gathered on its effectiveness. This is the system working as it should.”

In recent phase two clinical studies of the drug’s effectiveness on patients who had ceased to respond to prior treatment found the patients typically lived for 11 months without their disease getting worse.

Tumour size reduction occurred in 66% of patients, while tumours disappeared completely in a small but encouraging number. Overall, almost twice as many patients responded to the treatment compared with another chemotherapy, and the drug stalled progression of the cancer by an extra four months.

Dr Alastair Greystoke, senior lecturer in medical oncology at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS foundation trust and clinical investigator for the drug, said: “This is a turning point in the treatment of EGFR T790M mutation-positive non-small-cell lung cancer, and very welcome news for a group of patients with limited options.

“Two-thirds of patients have a good reduction in the size of their tumours with an accompanying improvement in their symptoms, which is unprecedented for patients at this stage of their disease.”

Paula Chadwick, the chief executive of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: “Osimertinib represents a new option for hundreds of patients who have this specific form of lung cancer.

“This new type of targeted therapy is an exciting development in the treatment of lung cancer. For many of our patients and their families this is a breakthrough moment – a recognition that these new medicines can truly benefit people with an advanced form of the disease.

“We welcome the announcement – it is good news for patients with the appropriate type of lung cancer. We hope this paves the way for further positive decisions for lung cancer patients across the UK.”

Given the time and expense required to clinically trial a cancer drug before it is finally approved for general use by NICE, we hope that the updated Cancer Drugs Fund rules will be followed in respect of other drugs showing promise at clinical trial stage in treating cancers at an advanced stage.


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