Bristol-Myers Asked to Seek Special Coverage for Opdivo in U.K.

  • Opdivo not cost-effective for all lung-cancer patients: NICE
  • Company advised to seek payment from U.K. Cancer Drugs Fund

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Opdivo lung-cancer treatment isn’t cost-effective for all patients, and the company should seek to make it accessible to some through a special U.K. government program, the country’s health-cost regulator said.

Bristol-Myers should make a case to get Opdivo paid for by the Cancer Drugs Fund, which covers new therapies while information is collected on how well they work in practice, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, known as NICE, said in an e-mailed statement. The medicine’s potential should be explored in patients with certain levels of a protein involved in immune response to cancer, according to the statement, a draft of recommendations to the state-run National Health Service.

“We do not have the full picture yet and we need more evidence to find out the extent of this benefit” in patients whose protein levels indicate the drug will work best, Carole Longson, director of the health technology evaluation center at NICE, said in the statement.

Bristol-Myers, based in New York, has lost about a quarter of its market value this year as study results threw into question whether Opdivo can help lung-cancer patients who’ve just been diagnosed. Meanwhile, Merck & Co.’s rival treatment Keytruda reduced the risk of death or cancer progression by 50 percent in a study, giving Merck a head start on all of its competitors in the race for the best new immune therapy against lung tumors.

NICE said last week that Keytruda isn’t cost-effective, even with a discount on price, and shouldn’t be covered by the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Bristol-Myers also offered an undisclosed discount on Opdivo, whose price is 439 pounds ($536) for a 40-milligram vial, according to NICE. Exact treatment costs depend on a person’s weight and type of lung cancer.

Opdivo is given intravenously every two weeks and targets a protein called PD-L1. NICE suggested that coverage through the Cancer Drugs Fund would allow study and access to the drug in patients with PD-L1 levels of 10 percent or more on their cancer cells.

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