In early September, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) released a draft technology appraisal recommending against the use of Celgene’s Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel) for Pancreatic Cancer. NICE often releases drafts prior to their final reports, giving pharmaceutical companies and other stakeholders the opportunity to offer further information, evidence, and comments. This preliminary decision inspired a number of news articles—PMLiVE, Fierce Pharma, The Telegraph, PharmaTimes, and other news sources all added to the headlines about the agency’s initial report. Although each of these articles states at least once that the appraisal is draft guidance, not a final decision, it is important to emphasize that NICE’s draft decisions are subject to change. This past May, for example, another Celgene drug, Revlimid (lenalidomide), received a negative draft decision for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes. Months later, in August, NICE released a new draft with a positive decision based on additional information provided by Celgene. In March, NICE issued a draft guidance against Alexion’s Soliris (eculizumab), but requested more information justifying the cost. At the beginning of September, NICE, satisfied with Alexion’s addendum, released new positive draft guidance. These three instances alone occurred in 2014; there are more in NICE’s history.
Publishing draft guidance brings up an important point about NICE in particular and HTA agencies in general. NICE’s efforts toward transparency are admirable, but decisions can change until the final guidance is released. Each of the above news articles represents a single data point—a single update in an ongoing process toward a final decision. Only the final decision is binding. Although following the news is certainly valuable, these brief updates do not tell the entire story. Furthermore, though influential, NICE’s decisions do not determine how other countries will make their decisions. NICE is a high-profile agency, but there are others that provide insight into global HTA and reimbursement policies and decisions.
Draft Guidance from NICE: Not the Last and Final Word
Indeed, NICE issued negative draft guidance about Abraxane; but the story does not end there. Abraxane has also been reviewed for Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer, and it has been reviewed multiple times by other agencies: HAS in France, PBAC in Australia, CCO in Canada, and SMC in Scotland have all reviewed the drug for at least one indication.
The Snapshot below, generated by the Context Matters Reimbursement Risk Tracker (RRT) database platform, shows that Pancreatic Cancer reviews currently comprise only a small percentage of all HTA reviews for Abraxane. The news about a NICE draft provides manufacturers and stakeholders an opportunity to present additional data and commentary, but it does not include the necessary and complete context to understand the market access status of the drug around the world, or for other disease conditions. Informed action requires more context than that included in the drafts alone.
Furthermore, the draft does not represent all that NICE has decided about Abraxane in the past. NICE recommended Abraxane for the treatment of Ovarian Cancer in 2005; but in 2006, the agency issued a negative decision for its use in Breast Cancer.
The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has already reviewed Abraxane for Pancreatic Cancer. The agency issued a negative recommendation, finding it more efficacious/effective, but less cost effective than its comparators.
To be sure, draft guidance reviews from NICE provide insight and are valuable issuances to read once published in the news. However, they do not guarantee future and final outcome, nor do they tell the whole story.