New breast cancer drug 'huge step forward

New breast cancer drug 'huge step forward


A new breast cancer drug that will give 1,300 women a year with advanced form of the disease an extra six months of life has been hailed by charities as a “huge step forward” in treatment. The “smart drug” known as T-DM1 works against a highly aggressive form of disease, combining the drug Herceptin with chemotherapy in one dose. It is the first drug of its kind for breast cancer.


Last night, charities said it would offer precious time to hundreds of terminally ill women, while sparing them many side-effects associated with conventional treatment. The drug, which is marketed as Kadcyla, and made by Roche will now be available for NHS patients via the national cancer drugs fund, which will pay costs which average £44,000 per patient.


Clinical trials have found that women given the drug survived 30.9 months compared with 25.1 months for patients treated with lapatinib and capecitabine, the main treatments which have been available for such patients until now. They also suffered fewer side-effects such as nausea and hair loss. Each year, around 48,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and one in five is found to have the defective HER2 gene, which means they are suitable for the drug Herceptin.


But the treatment is not always successful. The new drug will be offered to around 1,300 women a year who were initially given Herceptin, but have stopped responding to treatment. Dr Caitlin Palframan, Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Senior Policy Manager, said: “This is a huge step forward. Kadcyla has been shown to extend life by up to six months in HER2-positive secondary breast cancer patients, and with more manageable side effects than alternative drugs. It has the potential to provide women with a better quality of life in their final months than existing treatments, which could make a significant difference.”


The drug, which is administered intravenously once every three weeks, is designed to penetrate cancer cells and destroy them from within. Because its action is so precise, a normally toxic form of chemotherapy can be used. It works via a two-stage attack, with the drug blocking growth signals that enable cancer cells to survive before releasing chemotherapy directly into the cells.


Emma Pennery, Clinical Director at Breast Cancer Care said: “Kadcyla offers a unique combination of chemotherapy and targeted therapy in one agent, which could help delay progression of this aggressive disease and, importantly, improve quality and length of life for those with limited treatment options. “Knowing how hard it can be for people to tolerate some of the very unpleasant side effects associated with chemotherapy, such as feeling sick and vomiting and hair loss, it’s very encouraging that their likelihood and severity are reduced with Kadcyla compared to other chemotherapy drugs.


The drug will be made available on the NHS via the cancer drugs fund - meaning patients should be able to access treatment if their consultants seek it. However, the fund is only currently in place until 2016. Charities called for drug rationing body National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in England and the Scottish Medicines Consortium to make an urgent decision on routine use of the treatment, which will also be available privately.


Mia Rosenblatt, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Breast Cancer Campaign said: “Today’s announcement that this revolutionary new drug has been granted a license by regulators and is now available to patients with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer - around 20 percent of those with breast cancer -, is really encouraging news, as it has been shown to extend life by up to six months and have more manageable side effects than other existing treatments. “We look forward to the assessments by Nice and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), to ensure that all patients who could benefit from this drug, are able to receive it over the long-term.”


By Laura Donnelly,


The Telegraph, the 13th of February, 2014.


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