LONDON Britain's healthcare cost-effectiveness watchdog said it may reject Roche Holding AG's drug Avastin for treating advanced ovarian cancer in combination with two standard chemotherapy drugs.
In the latest of a series of setbacks for the medicine, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said Avastin used with chemotherapy drugs paclitaxel and carboplatin is not a cost-effective treatment for the government-funded National Health Service (NHS).
NICE said the drug costs around 2,500 pounds a month per patient.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women in the UK and in 2009, the latest year for which data are available, there were nearly 7,000 new cases diagnosed in the country.
NICE rejected Avastin as a first-line treatment for advanced breast cancer in July. This was after drug regulators in the United States came to the same conclusion in 2011.
The watchdog will make a final decision on treating ovarian cancer with the drug, also known as bevacizumab, next year. Its latest guidance could change after feedback from a public consultation that runs to January 22, during which Roche could appeal.
In the meantime, NICE chief executive Andrew Dillon said that although the combination did appear to delay the spread of ovarian cancer in some patients, it was unclear whether it helped patients live longer overall.
"There was no evidence to show that the clinical benefit of the treatment justifies its cost, when compared to existing treatments - an important factor to consider, especially as the NHS has finite resources," Dillon said in a statement.
Roche said it was disappointed but would work with NICE to win the regulator's backing.
"Avastin is the first drug for 15 years that has been shown to improve outcomes for women with advanced ovarian cancer, and can halt the progression of the disease for up to six months compared to chemotherapy alone," the company said.
Roche noted the drug was approved by the European Medicines Agency for treating advanced ovarian cancer in combination with standard chemotherapy in December 2011.
Until the final decision, NICE said the NHS should make decisions locally on funding the treatment but if the final decision goes against Roche, hospitals will not be able to use core NHS funds for the treatment.
(Reporting by Chris Wickham; Editing by Mark Potter)