NICE again thwarts Celgene's bid for Abraxane in pancreatic cancer

NICE CEO Sir Andrew Dillon

The U.K.'s cost-effectiveness gatekeeper is known for its stinging rejection of cancer meds, and the watchdog is singing a familiar tune with Celgene's ($CELG) pancreatic cancer drug Abraxane.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) once again shot down the drug as an add-on to Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Gemzar in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer, saying that the med's high cost does not outweigh the benefits.

And while the Abraxane/Gemzar combo was more effective than Gemzar alone, it resulted in more serious side effects, NICE said in a statement. The Abraxane combo also presented more side effects than Gemzar used with capecitabine--and that combo was about as effective as the Abraxane duo. And Celgene itself said that a commonly prescribed chemo regimen, known as Folfirinox, is more effective than the Abraxane-plus-Gemzar combo, though it does carry more side effects, NICE pointed out.

"Although [Abraxane plus Gemzar] is more effective than one of the treatment options currently available, it is associated with more side effects and is also more expensive," NICE Chief Executive Sir Andrew Dillon said in a statement.

The news is a bit of a stumbling block for Celgene and its ambitious sales goals. CEO Bob Hugin said last year that he planned to double the company's sales by 2017 to $13 billion to $14 billion, prompted by the promising performance of Abraxane and blood cancer drug Revlimid.

But Celgene has encountered other obstacles along the way, including two rejections from NICE for other cancer meds. The cost watchdog turned down blockbuster Revlimid last year but changed its tune after Celgene offered a cost-cutting deal--or "patient access scheme" in NICE terms. In October, NICE shot down the company's multiple myeloma treatment Imnovid, claiming that the drug's benefits did not justify its high price tag.

Celgene is not the only drugmaker facing NICE's cancer drug rejections. Last year, the U.K. body gave Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) a thumbs-down for prostate cancer pill Zytiga. In October, the U.K. gatekeeper sparked outcry when it turned down Roche's ($RHHBY) breast cancer treatment Kadcyla due to pricing concerns.

And NICE's trend of rejecting cancer meds isn't set to change anytime soon. According to a recent report, the U.K. watchdog is less likely to green-light oncology meds compared to other classes of drugs. Plus, NICE has grown increasingly stringent on cancer drugs over time, the report found. The U.K.'s Cancer Drugs Fund often covers oncology meds stiff-armed by NICE, but is struggling with budget constraints and could limit the number of meds it makes available.

- read NICE's statement

Special Report: The top 10 most expensive drugs of 2013 - Revlimid

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