The future of a life extending cancer drug took a step forward on Friday, November 23 during an appeal meeting by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

NICE heard an appeal against its decision to make chemotherapy drug Alimta available on the NHS.

Two appeals were lodged against guidance issued for the drug by NICE in July.

Alimta is said to extend the lives of sufferers of asbestos-related disease Mesothelioma. Guidance was issued for it after a two-year campaign backed by founder of the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, Chris Knighton and asbestos compensation claims specialists Thompsons Solicitors.

The guidance was put on hold earlier this year until NICE hears two appeals against their original decision.

Fatal Asbestos Related Disease

There is no cure for mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos. More than 2,000 people every year are diagnosed with the disease, which often leaves sufferers with a life expectancy of just months.

Specialists estimate around 700 people a year could benefit from Alimta, which is said to extend the lives of some sufferers and has proven to improve quality of life.

Earlier this year NICE ruled against the use of Alimta across the NHS. But following an appeal to NICE by manufacturers Eli Lilly it agreed to carry out a review of the evidence.

In July NICE announced the drug would be made available to a certain category of mesothelioma patients.

The decision was welcomed by families across the UK. Previously the drug was only available on the NHS in some parts of the country including the North East, Scotland, Liverpool and London.

Patients living elsewhere in the UK were faced with having to pay up to £8,000 per cycle to obtain the treatment.

Full Guidance now expected later this year

Hospitals are free to prescribe the drug but are not under any obligation and it is expected that the current postcode lottery will continue until full guidance is given. This is now expected later this year or early next year.

Chris Knighton, founder of the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund said: “We were astounded to find that two different appeals had been lodged against the guidance. We are anxious to find out the grounds for their appeals and for NICE to make a final decision on this drug. Hundreds of mesothelioma patients across the country have been in limbo for more than two years and it is time they received an answer.”

Ian McFall, head of asbestos policy at Thompsons Solicitors said: “This meeting is the first step to a final decision from NICE on Alimta. The last thing people suffering from this terrible illness need is more uncertainty. They are going through hell as it is and should be entitled to know what treatment is available to them as soon as possible.”

This news story has also been published by the Shields Gazette and the Journal Live.