NICE approves MabThera for lymphoma maintenance

In a turnabout decision that could give sales a big boost, the U.K.'s cost-effectiveness watchdog gave Roche's MabThera a thumbs up for maintenance treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Also known as Rituxan, the drug is already approved for lymphoma and leukemia treatment, but the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence had cast a skeptical eye on the cost of using it as a maintenance therapy.

Maintenance therapy involves months or years of drug use. For Roche, the indication promises to increase MabThera sales as that treatment timeline extends. Patients would be given the drug every other month for up to two years. For NICE, the question was whether the cost of that long-term therapy would be worth the benefit.

Roche delivered new evidence showing that MabThera could prevent cancer spread for three to four years, NICE said in a statement. That put the benefit calculus in the drug's favor, the NICE advisory panel determined. "Using [MabThera] as a maintenance treatment ... could be a valuable treatment option for hundreds of patients because no such maintenance treatment has so far been available," said Peter Littlejohns, NICE's clinical and public health director. "Alongside its proven clinical effectiveness, the appraisal committee has also established that rituximab first-line maintenance offers value for money for the NHS."

This isn't the final word; the agency will make its final recommendation after a public comment period that closes June 8. A decision is expected in July.

- read the statement from NICE
- see the Reuters story
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