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Charities criticise NICE breast cancer drug ruling

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Breast cancer charities have expressed their “utter disappointment” after the health regulator said a new drug to treat breast cancer was ”not value for money”.

The latest draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended that the drug everolimus should not be available for widespread use on the NHS to treat a form of advanced breast cancer.

Charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer said that the announcement would come as a blow to the 1,500 women living in England and Wales who would be eligible for treatment.

The drug, also known as afinitor, is licensed for use in post-menopausal women with HER2 negative, hormone-receptor-positive advanced breast cancer if their disease has returned following a type of hormone therapy.

Manufacturers say that the drug, if taken in combination with another medication, can extend the lives of patients for up to five months but NICE said that the drug was not deemed to be “cost effective”.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s chief executive Chris Askew said: “Today’s decision from NICE is an utter disappointment for Breakthrough. This news will come as a blow to the nearly 1,500 women who might have benefited from the precious, quality time with their families afinitor could give them.

“This drug has been shown to be effective at slowing the growth of some metastatic breast cancers, to help a patient live a good quality of life for longer. But the ever-present issue of cost has put a question mark over an invaluable option for women where treatment options are already very limited.

“UK researchers have a proud history of developing ground-breaking new drugs; these efforts are in vain if patients are then not able to get access to them. We’re worried that today’s decision is a red flag indicating that other promising drugs on the horizon may be out of reach to patients.”

Rachel Rawson, clinical nurse specialist at charity Breast Cancer Care, added: “We recognise that decisions about approval of cancer drugs are based on many complex factors, including absolute gains in overall survival and impact on quality of life, but this rejection for patients with secondary breast cancer will be extremely disappointing news for those living with the disease who have limited treatment options.”

NICE’s chief executive Sir Andrew Dillon said: “We are committed to making sure the NHS provides the treatments that can make the greatest difference to people’s lives. This means weighing up how well a treatment works and comparing it to similar treatments in the NHS while also taking into account any associated side effects and the cost that the health service is being asked to pay.

“Unfortunately, while the evidence presented to the independent appraisal committee suggested that everolimus with exemestane could delay the growth and spread of breast cancer by four to five months, the evidence did not allow the committee to establish how long everolimus could actually extend a person’s life for, compared with exemestane alone. Using the evidence available, the committee concluded that everolimus is not a cost-effective treatment option for the NHS.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the charity Breast Cancer Campaign, added: “Everolimus offered hope to women with advanced breast cancer, whose treatment options are currently limited. The rejection of the drug will be hugely disappointing for these women, especially as it had appeared to show early promising results.

“We hope that this is just a delay rather than the end of the line for everolimus as further data on the effectiveness of this treatment is expected in the future. In the meantime, while not a long term solution, access to the drug is available through the Cancer Drugs Fund.”

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