9 May 2017

NICE Says Head and Neck Cancer Drug is Not Cost Effective

NICE has published draft guidance saying the cost of using nivolumab to treat head and neck cancer is too high for routine NHS use.

NICE have assessed the benefits of using nivolumab to treat different types of cancer. For some types, such as kidney cancer, NICE has been able to recommend the drug.

For others, such as head and neck cancer, the evidence is not as strong and NICE has therefore not recommended it to be offered routinely on the NHS.  

Professor Carole Longson, director of the health technology evaluation centre at NICE, said: “We understand that treatment options in this area are limited, and it’s important to patients that treatments both extend and improve their quality of life.

“Evidence for nivolumab extending the long-term survival and quality of life for people with head and neck cancer is uncertain. Therefore, the additional costs for these potential benefits was considered too high for NHS use at present.”

There are almost 10,000 cases of newly diagnosed head and neck cancer per year in the UK. Up to 600 people are estimated to be eligible for nivolumab if it were to be recommended.

Nivolumab (Opdivo, Bristol Myers-Squibb) is an innovative immunotherapy drug. It works by harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system to destroy their cancer cells.

The evidence showed survival rates significantly improved with nivolumab in the short term, but its costs were still too high to be considered for routine NHS use at present.

“This is not our final recommendation for nivolumab,"  added Professor Longson.

“The draft guidance is now out for consultation, and I think it’s important that consultees, including the company, healthcare professionals and the public submit their comments on this draft recommendation so that they can be considered by the committee.”

The draft guidance is open for public consultation until Thursday 4 May.

Until final guidance is issued NHS bodies should make decisions locally on the funding of specific treatments.