UPDATED: Sanofi's Zaltrap hits U.K. cost trap

Sanofi's cancer drug Zaltrap has again fallen into a price trap. The cost watchdog in the U.K. said it does not find the benefits of the colorectal cancer drug outweigh its high price. Sanofi ($SNY) began discounting the drug in the U.S. after it ran up against similar arguments from a key medical center who took their objections public with an editorial in The New York Times.

NICE said the agency would not recommend that the National Health Service (NHS) not pay for Zaltrap for treating metastatic colorectal cancer that is resistant to, or has progressed after, an oxaliplatin-containing regimen, Pharmafile reports. It said it has already approved 6 other treatments for various stages of the disease. "Although the independent committee considered aflibercept to be a clinically effective treatment, it could not be considered a cost-effective use of NHS," the committee said. 

In a polite statement, the chief executive of NICE, Sir Andrew Dillon, said the group was "disappointed" not to be able to recommend the drug but "we have to be confident that the benefits that drugs offer patients really do justify what the NHS will have to pay for them." It estimated the cost per "Quality Adjusted Life Year" (QALY) would run from £62,900 to £66,500 ($97,000 to $102,656). Sanofi can still appeal the decision.

Countries with government health plans have been getting stingier about drug reimbursements, and the escalating costs of cancer care in particular have been creating a global backlash from doctors and patients. Zaltrap ran into that last fall when three doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced in The New York Times that their hospital wouldn't be using Zaltrap. They didn't think it was worth the price when other available drugs are just as effective. Sanofi almost immediately said it would offer discounts that would cut the price nearly in half.

- read the Pharmafile story

Editor's Note: The story was updated to include specific language from the evaluation, which said that while clinically effective, the drug could not be considered cost effective.