Discount sways U.K. cost gatekeeper on AstraZeneca's ovarian cancer med Lynparza

AstraZeneca's headquarters in London--Courtesy of AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca ($AZN) scored a victory for its ovarian cancer drug Lynparza, as U.K. cost watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) did an about-face and recommended the med for some patients as long as the company offers a discount.

The notoriously tough cost gatekeeper gave a thumbs-up to Lynparza in final draft guidance but attached a few conditions to its approval. Patients taking the med must have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations and have already had three or more rounds of platinum-based chemo. The agency is also requiring that AstraZeneca pay for treatment if patients remain on the drug longer than 15 months, the PharmaTimes reports.

NICE rejected Lynparza over the summer after finding that its £4,200-a-month price didn't justify its benefits, sparking backlash from the company and physicians who wanted patients to have access to the innovative drug. Lynparza is part of a new class of treatments, poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors, which target cancer cells while leaving patients' normal cells untouched.

AstraZeneca bounced back with more information on the drug's promise in individuals who have already had three or more courses of platinum-based chemo, and also agreed to slash Lynparza's cost. Those moves were enough to sway NICE, even as the agency becomes more strict with funding and rejects other cancer treatments such as Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Zytiga.

But not everyone is satisfied with the cost watchdog's latest decision on Lynparza. NICE's approval "is a defining moment in the history of targeted cancer treatments" but it's "still frustrating" that patients must have three rounds of chemo before they can take the med, said Paul Workman, CEO of The Institute of Cancer Research, as quoted by PharmaTimes.

And while AstraZeneca welcomes the news, it's not pleased with NICE's recent funding for cancer drugs. "Despite being a world leader in the discovery and development of groundbreaking medicines, the U.K. has the worst overall cancer outcomes in western Europe," Lisa Anson, head of AstraZeneca in the U.K., told the Financial Times. NHS patients are losing out on promising new therapies because of NICE's increasingly restrictive funding choices, Anson said.

Still, a NICE thumbs-up for Lynparza helps AstraZeneca as it tries to regain ground in oncology and chases blockbuster sales for the drug. The company sees Lynparza bringing in $2 billion a year in peak sales, and AstraZeneca will need that extra boost to achieve the $45 billion sales goal that CEO Pascal Soriot laid out last year.

- read the PharmaTimes story
- here's the Financial Times article (reg. req.)

Special Report: The top 15 pharma companies by 2014 revenue - AstraZeneca