Bristol-Myers Wins U.K. Nod for Melanoma Drug Despite Cost

  • Recommendation follows NICE rejection for use in lung cancer
  • Final draft guidance is being reviewed by consultation group

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. won the endorsement of the U.K.’s health-cost regulator for the use of its drug Opdivo in skin-cancer patients after failing to win its recommendation for treating lung tumors.

Once the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence makes a final recommendation on Opdivo, the National Health Service must make the medicine available within three months.

More than 13,000 people in the U.K. were diagnosed with melanoma in 2011, and it accounts for more deaths than all other skin cancers combined, according to NICE. Opdivo, an immune-based therapy that boosts the body’s ability to fight cancer cells, could become a key weapon in the arsenal against melanoma, said Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research.

“There’s still huge unmet need in melanoma, because drug resistance is a problem in this disease,” Workman said in an interview.

Opdivo costs about 5,265 pounds ($7,542) per month, according to NICE. Bristol-Myers didn’t offer a discount to win NICE’s backing in advanced melanoma.

Cost Questions

The NHS adviser said last month that Opdivo wasn’t a cost-effective use of NHS resources in lung-cancer patients. That decision isn’t yet final. The same day, NICE said in final guidance it wouldn’t endorse Roche Holding AG’s breast-cancer medicine Kadcyla, also because of its cost.

“NICE has a very difficult position to balance a finite budget with drugs that are coming in,” Workman said. “The companies need to think about that if they want these drugs to be approved by NICE.”

The final draft guidance from NICE is being reviewed by patient groups and doctors, who have a chance to appeal.

“We welcome today’s decision from NICE, which is positive news for melanoma patients in the U.K.,” Johanna Mercier, general manager of Bristol-Myers Squibb in the U.K. and Ireland, said in an e-mail. “However, we are mindful that lung cancer patients continue to await a final decision on this medicine.”

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