NICE says pharma should help pay for leukemia drugs

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Government regulators in Britain are asking Novartis and Bristol-Myers Squibb to help pay for their leukemia drugs.

In a statement today, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) took issue with price points on BMS's Sprycel and Tasigna—telling Bloomberg that the drugs cost around $50,000 each for a year supply—and said there wasn't sufficient evidence for recommending the drug to patients.

“[T]he exceptionally high costs of dasatinib and nilotinib, taken together with poor quality evidence on the drugs' effectiveness, would not allow NICE to consider the drugs a cost-effective use of NHS resources,” the institute said in a statement. NHS, or the National Health Service, would function as the payer for the drugs.

Sprycel and Tasigna would be given to patients unable to tolerate Novartis' Gleevec as a first-line therapy. NICE said no studies had compared high doses of Gleevec with Sprycel or Tasigna.

“The cost of the drugs is also extremely high and before committing limited NHS resources to fund them, we need to be sure they are effective,” said Peter Littlejohns, clinical and public health director at NICE, in the statement. “It would be heartening to hear that the pharmaceutical company manufacturers are prepared to share some of the very high cost of the drugs with the NHS.” A committee will meet again on March 9 to consider any new findings, before issuing an updated draft guidance on the decision.

In the US, Novartis has launched several websites to help patients cope with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and pay for treatment. MyCMLCircle.com provides information about Gleevec and Tasigna, and lets patients sign up for support programs and co-pay programs. A separate site, CMLalliance.com, offers educational tools and updates on treatment and follow-up care. A third site, CMLEarth.com, allows patients and caregivers to mark themselves on an interactive world map. From September 2008 through September 2009, Gleevec was the ninth best selling specialty pharmaceutical drug in any disease category, at $3.27 billion globally, according to IMS Health data.

BMS runs an unbranded site called MyCMLCare.com, which provides information about CML, links to support groups and side effects trackers. Under the alternative treatments section on the web, patients are directed to the Sprycel brand site.

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