Prostate cancer drug abiraterone approved by Scottish Medicines Consortium

Prostate cancer cells
Image caption Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths among UK men

A drug which can extend the lives of men with incurable prostate cancer has been approved for use in Scotland.

Scotland was the only part of the UK where abiraterone was not yet available on the NHS.

But the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has now given doctors the green light to prescribe it.

The drug was one of several said to have helped keep Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi alive after he returned to Libya.

The SMC had previously rejected a submission to allow the drug to be used in Scotland on the grounds that the cost - some £3,000 a month - did not justify the health benefits.

But manufacturer Janssen resubmitted its application and the SMC has now reversed its initial decision.

It said abiraterone use will be restricted to patients who have received only one prior chemotherapy regimen.

The SMC's website said: "This SMC advice takes account of the benefits of a Patient Access Scheme (PAS) that improves the cost-effectiveness of abiraterone. This SMC advice is contingent upon the continuing availability of the patient access scheme in NHS Scotland."

Martin Price, external affairs director at Janssen UK, said: "We have gone to significant lengths to find a solution that allows eligible patients to be treated routinely on the NHS with this innovative, UK-discovered medicine.

"Janssen are pleased that the SMC has accepted Zytiga (trade name of abiraterone) for restricted use within NHS Scotland."

The decision to allow doctors to prescribe the drug was welcomed by cancer charities.

Prostate Cancer UK chief executive Owen Sharp said: "Today brings a victory for both decency and common sense. Abiraterone has now been approved for use on the NHS UK-wide and I thank and congratulate everyone who backed us and helped us achieve this result.

"Now that the correct decision has been made, health boards must waste no time in ensuring that men who need abiraterone can access it as soon as possible.

"Men with incurable prostate cancer should not be subjected to any further delays at a stage in their life when time is at an absolute premium."

'Feel priceless'

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, said: "We're delighted that the SMC has made abiraterone available for men whose cancer carries on growing after or during treatment with chemotherapy.

"This decision is an extremely important one for patients and their families because there are no other treatments available for men with this type of cancer.

"We know abiraterone is an effective drug. Although it's not a cure, it can offer men crucial extra months at the end of their lives, which can feel priceless to them and their loved ones."

But Dr Kumar said it had taken "far too long" for the SMC to come to the decision, and he urged the body to consider a more efficient way of fast tracking resubmissions.

More than 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK each year, with a quarter of these cases affecting men aged under 65.

About 10,000 men die of the disease each year, making it the second most common cause of cancer deaths in UK men.

Between 20% and 30% of those diagnosed with primary prostate cancer will present cancer that has spread beyond the prostate to other areas of the body.

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