U.K. gatekeepers shut out Novartis cancer treatment

NICE says Novartis' myelofibrosis treatment isn't worth the price tag.--Courtesy of Novartis

U.K. cost-effectiveness watchdogs kicked Novartis' ($NVS) new cancer drug Jakavi to the curb, saying the myelofibrosis treatment isn't worth the £3,600-per-month ($5,999) price.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence deemed Jakavi "clinically effective," and "could offer survival benefit."  But the agency determined that the treatment  "could not be considered a cost-effective use of resources."

In some ways, the draft guidance encapsulates the NICE approach to expensive drugs. NICE applies its logic to efficacy data and economic models, and often comes back with a "no" when treatments are expensive. And the agency often wins cost concessions that way.

But Jakavi isn't an expensive treatment for a widely prevalent cancer such as lung cancer or prostate cancer. It's approved in the E.U. to treat myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer that affects fewer than 1 in 100,000 people a year, Pharmafile notes. NICE has tended to be more open to pricey meds for rare diseases. After all, there are few alternatives for patients. And there are few patients, period, so the National Health Service has to shell out the thousands only rarely.

Of course, this is just draft guidance; a final decision isn't expected till June, and NICE will consult with Novartis between now and then. The two may come to a compromise on price, or Novartis may come back with new analyses to prove Jakavi is worth the cost quoted already. A second appraisal meeting takes place next month.

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