Fresh bid to give Megrahi’s cancer drug to NHS patients

A NEW attempt to give prostate cancer sufferers in Scotland access to the drug credited with keeping the Lockerbie bomber alive is to be made by its manufacturer.

Janssen confirmed last night it would resubmit its application for abiraterone acetate to be made available on the NHS after it was deemed too expensive.

Scottish ministers welcomed the new move for approval of the drug, which has been found in clinical trials to extend the lives of men with the cancer by an average of four months.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

The tablets cost £3,000 for a month’s supply.

Cancer charities had condemned as shameful the Scottish Medicines Consortium’s (SMC) decision on Monday to reject the drug, which has helped keep Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al- Megrahi alive.

However, Cancer Research UK, which helped to fund the initial work to develop the drug, has criticised the “high price” set by Janssen, saying it felt “extremely let down” by the company.

Abiraterone, also known as Zytiga, has been linked by a prostate specialist to Megrahi outliving his three-month prognosis by more than two years.

Janssen, part of the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, said it was disappointed with the SMC decision and was preparing another application, but it declined to say whether it would cut the price.

A spokeswoman said: “Janssen is disappointed with the SMC DAD, and are drafting a resubmission to SMC at this time. We will continue to explore all options to demonstrate the value of Zytiga® (abiraterone acetate). Janssen is committed to striving for a positive outcome for patients in Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We understand that the company has indicated its intention to resubmit to the SMC, and we would encourage them to do so.”

The move followed calls from prostate cancer sufferers and their families for the SMC decision to be reviewed.

Lord Steel, who was successfully treated for the condition, told The Scotsman: “I am naturally sympathetic to seeing any method used to prolong life for those who – unlike me – had more advanced cancer.”

Marion Goldsmith, from Edinburgh, whose husband, Malcolm, died from prostate cancer last year, said the drug could enable sufferers to live at home, eliminating the cost of hospital or hospice accommodation.

In her submission to the SMC, Ms Goldsmith wrote: “It is not the additional length of life that mattered so intensely in the last few weeks of life, as its quality. To have been able to control the pain without the use of hefty painkillers, which left him unable to participate in his own life, would have been the most precious thing.”

Tam Hewitt, a Glasgow-based volunteer with the Prostate Cancer Charity Scotland, and former sufferer, said of the SMC decision: “It is horrific it has been made on the basis of cost. The drug could prolong life and ease suffering. It is the ‘last chance saloon’.”

An SMC spokesman said: “It is always open to a company to resubmit an application, but it would have to have new information, such as new evidence or an adjustment to the price.”

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the equivalent of the SMC for England and Wales, has passed a draft decision ruling the drug is too expensive.

However, in England, some patients are able to access abiraterone through a special fund until Nice makes a final decision, and in Wales the drug is also available until the final decision.