BOWEL cancer patients in Scotland have been offered new hope with the approval of a drug proven to boost survival rates.
The disease is the second most common cause of cancer death for both men and women, with around 4,000 new patients and 1,600 people dying of the disease in Scotland each year.
Yesterday the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) recommended the use of the drug Erbitux, in combination with chemotherapy treatment, for late-stage bowel cancer patients.
Recent analysis has shown that the drug, which will be available on the NHS, can increase survival by more than two years.
The announcement represents a U-turn by the SMC, who rejected the use of Erbitux on “economic” grounds in 2009.
Treatment will be available to those patients who have the RAS wild-type biomarker, the mutated gene which is found in approximately 50 per cent of bowel cancer patients.
Dr Janet Graham, consultant oncologist at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow, said: “This positive recommendation is great news for clinicians, patients and their families alike in Scotland.”
She added: “This treatment has a proven survival benefit in [RAS wild-type metastatic] bowel cancer patients which highlights the importance of biomarker testing to ensure that patients can receive personalised treatments based on their biomarker status.”
The five-year relative survival rate for bowel cancer patients in Scotland is approximately 55 per cent for both sexes.
The SMC’s recommendation was based on detailed analysis of the clinical and cost-effectiveness data of Erbitux in the first-line setting for metastatic bowel cancer patients with RAS wild-type tumours.
The submission was supported by clinical experts and bowel cancer charities.
Erbitux has already obtained market authorisation in more than 90 countries for the treatment of bowel, head and neck cancers.
Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, said: “Any funding for a cancer treatment that potentially prolongs life is a welcome step forward. We’ve campaigned long and hard for fair and equal access to treatments for Scottish bowel cancer patients.”
He added: “Increasingly with bowel cancer it’s about targeted therapies. When bowel cancer has spread, finding and providing the right treatment for every patient is crucial. Knowing the genetic type of a person’s bowel cancer means doctors can choose which treatments will benefit them and be most effective, giving them extra precious time with their loved ones.”
David Garmon-Jones, general manager at Merck Serono UK, who make the drug, said: “At Merck Serono we are committed to developing personalised treatments which can benefit patients based on their biomarker status to best inform their treatment decisions and eventual outcomes. Therefore, we welcome the SMC decision to further fund Erbitux in Scotland for metastatic patients with RAS wild type metastatic bowel cancer.”
Bowel cancer is a major health problem in Scotland, which has a higher rate of the disease than most other countries in the Western world.
In the last ten years, bowel cancer incidence in Scotland has increased while bowel cancer mortality between 2003 and 2013 has fallen.