Scotland’s medicines watchdog has come under renewed pressure to approve the prostate cancer drug credited with helping keep convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi alive, for patients on the NHS.
Northern Ireland has become the third UK country after England and Wales to allow access to abiraterone, which costs an estimated £3,000 a month and can extend lives by more than three months for those with advanced prostate cancer.
In March, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) ruled out the drug for the NHS north of the Border on account of expense but further advice on the medicine is to be made available in a little under two weeks time. At present, the drug is only available privately, through clinical trials or case-by-case approval.
Abiraterone, which exists under the trade name Zytiga, is said to have helped Libyan Megrahi, who was freed from prison in 2009 on health grounds, survive more than two years beyond initial estimates.
Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Prostate Cancer UK, said: “News that abiraterone has been approved for use in the NHS in England, Wales and now Northern Ireland represents a resounding triumph for the thousands of men with advanced prostate cancer who campaigned long and hard for its availability.
“However our delight for men in these countries is matched only by our dismay that Scotland remains out on a limb as the only country in the UK where men with incurable prostate cancer continue to be routinely denied access to abiraterone on the NHS.
“The Scottish Medicines Consortium’s (SMC) original decision to reject abiraterone on the NHS in March was a bitter blow to hundreds of men dying of prostate cancer north of the border. Prostate Cancer UK will not rest until men have access to the drugs they need, regardless of where they live in the UK.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP added: “Thousands of men across the UK will have their quality of life enhanced thanks to this drug. But unfortunately, none of these patients will be in Scotland, which is now the only part of the UK where the drug has not been approved. This is an unacceptable disadvantage, and one that must be addressed immediately.”
The SMC has confirmed the outcome of a resubmission from the pharmaceutical company for the drug will be announced inside the next two weeks.
A spokesperson said: “The role of SMC is to establish whether new medicines offer value for money for the NHS in Scotland based on a submission from the pharmaceutical company.
“We are pleased that the manufacturer of abiraterone has made a resubmission to SMC for the medicine to be used for the treatment of prostate cancer, and we are hopeful that this submission will address the issues that we outlined when the medicine was not recommended in March. Further SMC advice on this medicine will be made public on Monday 13 August 2012.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As we have previously made clear, we welcome the company’s decision to resubmit to the SMC who are now considering the revised application and will publish their advice in due course.
“The Scottish Government has already issued guidance to help health boards make consistent and transparent decisions about the introduction and availability of all newly licensed medicines. This guidance includes specific advice about making drugs available for individual patients even if they are not recommended for general use.
“These arrangements are intended to ensure that – where there are demonstrable benefits – patients in all parts of Scotland are able to access newly licensed medicines in accordance with clinical need.”