Leukaemia patients protest in Manchester at drugs threat

Leukaemia patients in Manchester have been protesting against the planned withdrawal of funding for three cancer drugs.

The drugs are used as a second line of treatment for people with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).

Protesters are worried they could be made unavailable on the NHS because the treatments are too expensive.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) said it would announce its decision in August.

Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. Chronic leukaemia means that the condition progresses slowly over the course of many years.

Currently, CML patients are treated with a drug known as imatinib.

Should the disease become resistant to a standard dose of imatinib, patients can be offered one of three drugs - dasatinib, high-dose imatinib or nilotinib - as a second line of attack.

Stella Smith from Sale in Greater Manchester was diagnosed with CML two years ago.

She is worried what options she will have if the first line of treatment stops working.

"If the meeting decides that these second line drugs are no longer available in England and Wales, then I'm wondering where that would leave me," she said.

"I would have to move to Scotland or I would have to try to have a bone marrow transplant which may or may not be successful."

'Very expensive'

In its draft guidance issued in May, NICE said it was unable to recommend the three drugs for the treatment of CML.

NICE chief executive Andrew Dillon said that evidence for the effectiveness of dasatinib, high-dose imatinib or nilotinib was "weak" and that the use of "very expensive treatments" had to be justified.

However, a NICE spokesman stressed that the draft guidance was "for consultation only, and has not been issued to the NHS".

NICE confirmed that a meeting of its independent appraisal committee was held in Manchester on 9 June to discuss the draft guidance on the use of the three second line drugs.

In a statement, the independent health guidance organisation said: "The committee will also be considering the use of dasatinib or nilotinib for the treatment of CML for those who are intolerant to imatinib.

"Importantly, the draft guidance does not mean that people currently taking dasatinib, high-dose imatinib or nilotinib will stop receiving them."

NICE said it would announce its decision in six to eight weeks.

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