‘They’ve Decided My Mother’s, And Other Kidney Cancer Patients Lives Aren’t Worth Saving’

New cancer drugs proven to prolong life have been refused to patients in the latest row over medical funding. The drug Nexavar will not be available on the NHS in Wales, even though research has found it can extend patients’ lives. There are few other effective treatment options available to people with advanced kidney cancer.

The All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG), which decides on funding of some drugs, rejected Nexavar, which is also known as sorafenib, on the grounds of cost-effectiveness.

The decision has yet to be endorsed by Health Minister Dr Brian Gibbons, but is unlikely to be overturned unless the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommends NHS funding when it considers the drug sometime in the future.

More than 100 patients in Wales with kidney cancer would have been eligible for the drug, at a cost of £680,000 this year. Without access to the latest drugs they face a prognosis of an average of just under nine months of life but US research has shown patients are living longer after taking the drug.

Kate Northcott, whose mother Pamela, 57, from Dyserth in Denbighshire, has advanced kidney cancer, said, “This group has decided that my mother’s, and other kidney cancer patients’ lives in Wales, are not worth saving.

“The report given to AWMSG stated that no other treatment options are available for advanced kidney cancer patients. The board concluded that it will reject the drug in favour of death for people suffering from this disease.”

The mother of two, who lives in Cheshire, helped to set up the Kidney Cancer Support Group, which is campaigning for improved access to Nexavar and another kidney cancer drug, Sutent – it has helped a number of people in England secure access to Nexavar.

Rose Woodward, of the Kidney Cancer Support Group, said, “There has been a massive investment in research which has come up with new ways of treating difficult cancers with targeted therapies. But by the time they get to the patients who need them, someone declares that they are too expensive. As a group we are considered easy pickings because all our energies are taken up fighting the disease, but you cannot condemn a whole section of the population to death without expecting some to fight back.”

Nexavar is one of only two drugs – the other is Sutent – which can offer an additional treatment option to terminally ill patients who would otherwise receive supportive care alone.

But there is no NHS funding for Sutent – only patients involved in clinical trials of the drug currently receive it. AWMSG has not been able to endorse the use of Sutent, which is also known as sunitinib.

Its manufacturer, Pfizer, has declined to submit for appraisal until it has been notified about when Nice will appraise the drug.

In the absence of guidance AWMSG said that prescribers should “exercise their clinical judgment unless there is evidence not to do so in the light of particular circumstances of an individual patient”.

A spokeswoman for AWSMG said, “The All-Wales Medicines Strategy Group met last week to appraise sorafenib (Nexavar) for the treatment of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma.

“The group, by majority vote of 11 to one, agreed to recommend that the drug should not be made available for use within NHS Wales on the grounds of lack of evidence of cost effectiveness.

“This recommendation will be put to the Health Minister shortly for his consideration.”