The Cost of Abiraterone

Guest blog by Beverley-Ann Perera-Anderson

In October 2011, 2020health hosted a roundtable on ‘Commissioning for Cancer Care.’ Ensuring people who are sick obtain the medicines they need, is an ongoing topic of interest for 2020health and is one of the reasons why we picked up on the media coverage of the draft guidance on abiraterone.

Prostate cancer is the most widespread cancer that affects men in the United Kingdom.  Each year 37,000 men are affected and over 10,000 men die each year from this illness. Abiraterone is being assessed by National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a late-stage treatment for men affected with advanced prostate cancer.  It’s of particular interest as it was developed in the UK, initially by the UK Institute of Cancer Research. Abiraterone has been shown to extend the life of men affected with this cancer for more than three months.  The Chief Executive of NICE, Sir Andrew Dillon recognised that one of the main benefits for this drug was that patients can take it orally and in the comfort of their own home, one of the ‘value’ measures to which NICE is supposed to give particular regard.

The cost of Abiraterone for one months supply is £3,000, and it has been made available via the Cancer Drugs Fund at an undisclosed discount price while undergoing its NICE assessment. But yesterday the England and Wales health watchdog stated that the benefits of the drug are not cost-effective for the NHS. Cancer charities are infuriated by the decision and think that NICE have overestimated the volume of abiraterone that would be prescribed, thus over-estimating the cost to the NHS. The final decision is expected in May. Whilst there are fewer life-extending drugs coming through the system, they are often some of the most expensive. Rationing is never easy.

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