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Life-prolonging kidney cancer drug is still not available in Northern Ireland

By Lisa Smyth

Official guidance recommending the use of a life-prolonging drug for kidney cancer patients has not been implemented in Northern Ireland.

While kidney cancer patients in England and Wales have won their battle for access to sunitinib, the Department of Health has yet to make a decision on whether the drug will be made available to patients in Northern Ireland.

As it emerged there are no immediate plans to prescribe sunitinib to patients in Northern Ireland, a kidney cancer charity has urged the Government to urgently address the disparity.

Final guidance backing the use of sunitinib was issued yesterday by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Effectiveness (NICE) — the body that vets NHS treatments on the basis of their value for money.

NICE has given the go-ahead for sunitinib, marketed as Sutent, to be prescribed as an immediate treatment to patients with |advanced kidney cancer living in England and Wales.

Although not a cure, the drug has been shown to extend patients' survival by several months and in some situations more than two years. Sunitinib is taken by mouth in the form of capsules.

The decision marks a u-turn after NICE ruled last year that sunitinib was not cost effective enough, sparking accusations that sufferers were being condemned to an early death. NICE took a new look at the drug after manufacturers Pfizer came up with a plan to make it more affordable.

Under the deal the company agreed to a 5% discount, dropping the price of sunitinib to around £24,000 per patient per year. It also offered to pay for the first six-week phase of treatment, amounting to just over £3,000, with the NHS picking up the rest of the bill.

A spokesman from the James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer said: “It is grossly unfair that this is not being made immediately available in Northern Ireland.

“With this in mind, we will continue to put pressure on all authorities to ensure the drug is made available to everyone who could be helped by it.

“For every day that authorities delay, lives are being lost and it is imperative that all the authorities come into line and make this drug freely available.”

A Department of Health, |Social Services and Public Safety spokesman said: “The final NICE guidance on Sutent (sunitinib) for the first-line treatment of metastatic renal cell carcinoma has been published on the NICE website.”

“This guidance is currently being reviewed by the Department for applicability to the Health and Social Care sector. The Department will issue guidance on Sutent (sunitinib) to the Health and Social Care sector in due course.

“There is no separate body in Northern Ireland for the appraisal of new medicines.”

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