The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued final guidance in August 2009 recommending the use of Erbitux (cetuximab) on the NHS to treat bowel cancer.
More specifically, Merck KGaA’s Erbitux has been approved for use in combination with the chemotherapy FOLFOX (5-fluorouracil, folinic acid and oxaliplatin) as a first-line treatment for patients with colorectal cancer. However this is subject to the following conditions: the tumour in the bowel must be operable; the cancer must only have spread to the liver and is inoperable; and the patient must be well enough for surgery on both tumours if this is possible after the treatment has taken effect.
NICE has also approved the use of Erbitux in combination with FOLFIRI (5-FU, folinic acid and irinotecan) as a first-line treatment if the patient is unable to take oxaliplatin.
The drug is subject to a cost-sharing agreement proposed by Merck, whereby it offers a 16% rebate to the NHS on the cost of treatment per patient. NICE has also stipulated that no one should be treated with the drug for more than 16 weeks.
Further reading - A detailed analysis of the UK pharmaceutical market, including some background information on NICE, is available from Espicom: The Pharmaceutical Market: United Kingdom (published June 2009)