Bristol’s drug pricing under fire as UK agency rejects Opdivo

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LONDON Bristol-Myers Squibb’s closely watched new drug Opdivo, one of the first of a new wave of cancer medicines that boost the immune system, has been rejected as too expensive for treating lung cancer by Britain’s cost watchdog.

In draft guidance issued on Wednesday, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said using Opdivo, or nivolumab, in non-small cell lung cancer after chemotherapy did not represent a cost-effective use of resources.

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The U.S. drugmaker said the NICE decision was “deeply disappointing”.

However, the head of Britain’s leading cancer research center said companies needed to do more to bring down the cost of such treatments.

“Recently we have seen drug companies setting very high prices for promising immunotherapies, including nivolumab,” said Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research.

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“There is no question that this pioneering and innovative treatment improves and extends the life of patients with non-small cell lung cancer – a disease that has very limited treatment options – but at this price it is very clearly too expensive.”

Immunotherapies offer long-lasting responses in some patients by releasing the brakes on the immune system, allowing the body’s defenses to recognize and destroy cancer cells, and they are already starting to change clinical practise.

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But their real promise lies in combination treatments, which will push up costs further.

“While innovative drugs should command relatively higher prices, the overall cost of treatment must be affordable,” Workman said.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschlerl editing by Jane Merriman and Jason Neely)