LONDON Kidney cancer patients should not be treated with four expensive new medicines on the National Health Service, the country's health cost-effectiveness watchdog said on Thursday.
The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said Roche's Avastin, Bayer's Nexavar, Pfizer's Sutent and Wyeth's Torisel could extend patients' lives by some months but were not cost-effective.
The drugs -- known generically as bevacizumab, sorafenib, sunitinib and temsirolimus -- should therefore not be a treatment option for advanced and/or metastatic kidney cancer, NICE said in its preliminary recommendation.
The decision fuels controversy about the way NICE rations treatment on the state health service in England and Wales, denying patients access to costly modern medicines that are used routinely in many countries, notably the United States.
Cancer Research UK said it raised questions about whether NICE's system of appraisal was appropriate for all types of drugs, especially when there were few alternative treatments.
NICE argues it has to make tough choices when deciding which drugs should be paid for and which not.
Modern targeted drugs are revolutionising cancer care, yet they often increase survival by only a few months. Drug companies argue they need to charge a high price for them to make a return on risky research investment.
The high price of treatment with the kidney drugs means it would cost 71,500 to 171,300 pounds for every year of healthy life gained, NICE calculated.
NICE has led the world in assessing the cost-effectiveness of drugs since 1999 but similar "health technology assessment" bodies are springing up in other countries as payers seek a rational way to assess whether costly new targeted cancer therapies are worth using.
Worldwide cancer drug sales are expected to increase at an annual rate of 12-15 percent over the next five years -- twice the pace of the growth in the overall pharmaceutical market -- and reach $75 billion to $80 billion (38 billion to 41 billion pounds) by 2012, according to healthcare consultancy IMS Health.
(Editing by Paul Bolding)