In a win for Roche, cost gatekeepers change tune to back Tecentriq in lung cancer

Tecentriq won a NICE recommendation in advanced non-small cell lung cancer after chemo. (Roche)

After a previous rejection and a discount offer by Roche, its PD-L1 immunotherapy Tecentriq snagged a lung cancer recommendation from England's influential cost-effectiveness watchdogs.

Experts at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence found that Tecentriq helps significantly extend patients' lives, and that helped the med hit the agency's cost-effectiveness goals. They recommended the drug for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer whose disease has progressed after chemotherapy, regardless of PD-L1 expression.  

National Health Service patients can use the med for up to two years and only if Roche provides the confidential discount it offered to snag the approval, according to a NICE document. Simon Eayrs, integrated franchise lead at Roche, said the company is "delighted" with the revision. 

"This decision proves that patients are able to get access to new and innovative treatments when all parties work together to find a practical solution," he added.

About 44,500 lung cancer patients are diagnosed every year, according to NHS England. NSCLC cases represent about 80% of the total. NICE reviewers noted the poor prognosis for patients and a need for better treatments.

RELATED: NICE turns down Tecentriq in bladder cancer but suggests Roche try again for some patients 

The agency came out against the drug in previous appraisals, published in August and October of last year. At the time, reviewers cited uncertainty about the med's survival benefit compared with other options and about its cost-effectiveness. 

Asked about the reversal, a representative for Roche said the company "worked collaboratively with NICE to provide data and analyses requested to ensure that eligible patients with NSCLC could gain access to atezolizumab on the NHS. It is the only available immunotherapy approved for use in a broad range of patients."

Paula Chadwick, chief executive at the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said in a Monday statement it's "particularly exciting that [Tecentriq] is applicable for patients with such a wide variety of types of non-small cell lung cancer.  

"Immunotherapy is still a new and developing area, which may provide a brighter future for lung cancer patients and those who love them," she said. "Today is a good day for us—but a better one for lung cancer patients.”

RELATED: Roche's Avastin could get a boost with Tecentriq's second lung cancer win this week 

Tecentriq failed to make it past the U.K. cost gatekeepers in metastatic bladder cancer last year as well. The agency asked Roche to seek a recommendation through the Cancer Drugs Fund. 

More recently, Roche posted positive survival data for its combo of Tecentriq and Avastin in lung cancer patients. In a phase 3 trial, the drugs—plus chemo—beat out a combo of Avastin and chemo in previously untreated NSCLC patients. The company said it would discuss the data with regulators for a potential new approval, but analysts weren't thrilled with the data. 

That news came on the heels of an announcement by the drugmaker that Tecentriq plus chemo topped solo chemotherapy in cutting the risk of disease progression or death in untreated patients with squamous NSCLC.