Patients campaign to keep life-extending drug available on NHS

Terminal cancer patients, led by a woman from South Croydon, are campaigning to keep a cancer drug, Kadcyla, available to access for free. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is currently reviewing medicines that were freely available through the old cancer drug fund.

Kadcyla was provided under a previous government program helping cancer patients have access to costly cancer drugs, which they normally could not get from the NHS. However, the fund closed as of March 2016 and has since been replaced with a new cancer drug fund.

Drugs that were freely available on the old fund must now be appraised by NICE. In February they will decide whether to keep the drug freely available. It is estimated that 1,200 HER2-positive breast cancer patients in England receive the drug.

At the time this article was written, a staggering 90,000 people have signed a petition to call on the NHS for the revolutionary drug to be kept freely available for terminal breast cancer patients. The face of this campaign is Bonnie Fox, 39, a mother from South Croydon who has HER2-positive breast cancer. This type of a disease produces cancerous cells that cannot be surgically removed. Fox was diagnosed with cancer shortly the birth of her son, and soon it spread to her liver and bones. The oncologist had told her that she would eventually be moved onto Kadcyla when the current drugs became ineffective.

“I’m really dependent on those extra years… they could [help me achieve] extra milestones with my son, help me see him get to school,” she said.

“To have that suddenly taken away feels so cruel. You know that drug is there, and you know that drug is good.”

Kadcyla has been available to terminal HER2-positive breast cancer patients since 2014. Clinical trials showed that the drug extended the life of terminal patients by an average nine months. Patients were also found to have a dramatically improved quality of life with manageable side effects compared to alternatives.

The petition has garnered a lot of attention. The local MP Chris Philp supports Mrs. Fox’s campaign, “This is exactly what the cancer Drugs Fund should be funding”. Mr Philp is now organising a meeting with Philip Dunner, Minister of State at the Department of Health, in order to discuss the campaigners’ concerns.

Roche, the manufacturer, set the cost per patient at £90,000 for the full treatment. And NICE believes that this is just too expensive to continue funding. However, they have since stated that their negotiations with Roche are still underway.

Professor Carole Longson, MBE, who is a director of the centre for health technology evaluation at NICE, said: “The reality is that the price of trastuzumbab emtansine is currently too high in relation to the benefits it gives for it to be recommended for routine commissioning in the NHS.”

Prof. Longson also stated that the recommendation was not final and encouraged people to submit comments for the committee to consider before the meeting next month. Senior medical and clinical oncologists specialising in breast cancer treatment, who form a part of the UK Breast Cancer Group, are now submitting requests to keep Kadcyla freely available for NHS patients.

Richard Erwin, General Manager of Roche UK, said: “This is not the end of the line for patients. We want to get back round the table with NICE to turn this preliminary decision around and ensure we all do the right thing for patients and their families.”

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