Roche cuts Tarceva price for U.K.

Need more evidence that the U.K. is playing hardball on drug prices? Here it is: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence agreed to pay for Roche's lung cancer med Tarceva--if and only if the drugmaker matched the price of an older, less costly remedy.

NICE had calculated that Tarceva was $3,700 more expensive than the Sanofi-Aventis treatment Taxotere. Roche proposed the discount, and NICE accepted; now, the drug-price watchdog will recommend Tarceva as an alternative to Taxotere in patients whose chemo has failed. Patients and their doctors will decide which drug to use.

Expensive cancer meds have become an explosive issue in the U.K. As NICE has taken a hard line on cost-benefit analysis, patients and advocacy groups have been demanding greater access to new, potentially life-saving or life-extending treatments. For example, NICE recently nixed four kidney cancer drugs--Roche's Avastin, Bayer's Nexavar, Pfizer's Sutent, and Wyeth's Torisel--saying they're not effective enough to warrant the big price tag. Patient groups were outraged. Then, last week, the government suggested that drugmakers should discount their prices if they want these costly meds to be adopted.

Apparently Roche took that advice. Will other drugmakers follow suit?

- read the story in the Wall Street Journal
- check out the WSJ Health Blog post