Radioactive cancer drug given NHS go-ahead


A radioactive prostate cancer drug which behaves in the same way as the deadly substance used to kill Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko has been recommended for NHS use. 

Radium-223 dichloride, marketed as Xofigo, could be made available for treating prostate cancer patients as early as December following a decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

The draft guidance on the drug - which homes in on tumours that have metastasised, or spread, to the bones and blasts them with alpha particles - has been hailed by charities an "important victory" for some patients. 

It is hoped it can help those whose prostate cancer has spread to the bone and who are too unwell to undertake chemotherapy. 

The drug emits the same type of radiation as polonium-210, which was used in the assassination of former KGB agent Mr Litvinenko on British soil in 2006.

Sir Robert Owen's 300-page report into Mr Litvinenko's death found in January this year that the former spy had been killed by the Russian FSB secret service, and that the operation had probably been approved by President Vladimir Putin.

In high doses, alpha particles destroy the body's tissues and organs, but, when used in a carefully targeted and controlled way, they can also wipe out cancer.

Previously, the drug had not recommended for widespread use, but only for those who had already received docetaxel chemotherapy treatment. 

Following an assessment by the health watchdog, it was determined that making the drug available for routine use was a "cost-effective use of NHS resources". 

It is estimated that the average cost of a course of treatment is £24,240, Nice said in its guidance. 

Final guidance is expected to be published by Nice at the end of September, giving NHS England a three-month interim period to fund the treatment and make it available to patients. 

Professor Carole Longson, director of the centre for health technology evaluation at Nice, said: "I am pleased we have been able to broaden our recommendations for radium-223.

"Patients with prostate cancer will surely benefit from this drug being available for routine NHS use.

"I hope we'll see more drugs like this move into routine NHS use after companies have been able to better demonstrate cost-effectiveness."

Commenting on the news, Heather Blake, director of support and influencing at Prostate Cancer UK said: "Today's announcement is an important victory for men whose prostate cancer has spread to the bone and are unable to have chemotherapy.

"Nice's decision means that these men will now be able to benefit from routine access to radium-223 which can often be their only viable treatment option for reducing the pain and distress caused by the cancer in their bones. The treatment will now no longer be restricted to those men who have already had chemotherapy."

Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: "Today's announcement brings us in line with Scotland, where radium-223 is already an option for men with advanced prostate cancer that has spread to the bone, and expands the still limited number of treatment options available to patients.

"This is an exciting and innovative example of a smarter, kinder treatment - specifically targeting bone metastasis and prolonging survival, while reducing the pain and discomfort brought about by bone tumours and improving quality of life."