Leading oncologist urges health watchdog to approve Newcastle-trialled cancer drug

Consultant medical oncologist Dr Mark Verrill urges health watchdog to approve funding for pioneering breast cancer treatment

A consultant analyzing a mammogram
A consultant analyzing a mammogram

A leading oncologist has urged a health watchdog to approve a life-extending drug for patients with advanced breast cancer.

As reported in The Journal, a new cancer drug trailed at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital has been shown to give “unprecedented” results in extending the lives of women with an advanced form of the illness.

Perjeta, in combination with herceptin and chemotherapy, has been hailed a major step forward in cancer treatment as it can lengthen survival in women with previously untreated, advanced HER2-positive breast cancer to more than four and a half years.

Last year, the pioneering treatment was turned down by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) for routine NHS use, but women can obtain it if their doctor applies to the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Yet the fund is due to be closed in 2016 and health experts are calling on Nice to give approval on the ground-breaking treatment as soon as possible.

Dr Mark Verrill, consultant medical oncologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who led the region’s clinical trial of the drug, said: “When Nice was first asked to look at the drug the response was that they would not fund the treatment because they could not provide an economic model in favour of perjeta.

Dr Mark Verrill
Dr Mark Verrill

“Now we have evidence of the significant length of time that the drug extends lives for Nice should be able to put that in their financial model, and hopefully well before the Cancer Drugs Fund finishes in 2016.

“While the treatment is very expensive it would be hugely frustrating if people could not get funding for the treatment. We need a revival of criteria used for allowing drugs to be made available for patients.”

Perjeta, also known as pertuzumab, is believed to cost approximately £43,000 a year per patient and new data presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology congress has shown a median overall survival of 56.5 months compared to just 40.8 months for standard of care, herceptin and chemotherapy alone.

Lesley Hoult, 63, of Woolsington, Newcastle, is battling HER2-positive breast cancer for the second time and the disease has spread to her bones.

The retired civil servant has been on perjeta for more than a year and says her life has been transformed by the medication.

Ms Hoult, who receives treatment at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre, said: “My quality of life is so much better and I am enjoying life as the side-effects of the treatment are manageable.

“Perjeta offers hope to those with my condition and their families. It is fantastic that the treatment has been developed thanks to the help of clinical trials in the region.”

Draft guidance published by Nice in August last year did not recommend the treatment because clinical trial data could not predict how long the drug might extend people’s lives for, yet it costs much more than current NHS treatments.

A spokesperson for Nice said: “The manufacturer had indicated there was no price at which pertuzumab would be cost effective. The reason for this appears to be that the drug is given in combination with another drug and any additional progression-free survival was accompanied by the costs of both pertuzumab and the comparator drug.

“Nice decided not to issue final draft guidance pending further exploration of the issue and is currently exploring the circumstances in which clinically effective technologies are not cost effective even at a zero price. In the light of this exploration, Nice will consider the next steps for pertuzumab.”


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