Breast cancer drug approved for NHS in England

Cancer Research UK
A breast cancer cell

A drug for certain types of breast cancer has been approved for the NHS in England.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued its final decision, recommending pertuzumab (Perjeta) for some women with breast cancer.

The drug previously had to be accessed through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Emlyn Samuel from Cancer Research UK said the decision was good news and that the “breakthrough drug” provides an important treatment option.

"We’re pleased that NICE and the drug company worked together to make pertuzumab routinely available in the NHS" - Emlyn Samuel, Cancer Research UK

NICE has recommended the drug for women who have HER2-positive breast cancer. The decision covers those patients whose breast cancer has returned to the breast but can’t be treated with surgery, or where it has spread to other parts of the body, and is given in combination with other treatment.

The drug’s manufacturer, Roche, said trials in these patients have shown that giving pertuzumab in combination with the drugs trastuzumab (Herceptin) and docetaxel could extend survival by nearly 16 months compared to standard treatment.

Patients who took pertuzumab plus trastuzumab (Herceptin) and docetaxel had an overall survival of 56.5 months - around four and a half years - compared to 40.8 months for Herceptin and docetaxel alone.

How does pertuzumab (Perjeta) work?

Pertuzumab is a monoclonal antibody, which works by attaching to molecules on the surface of cancer cells, or inside the cancer cells.

Human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2) is a molecule that makes cells grow and divide. Some cancers have large amounts of HER2, so are called HER2 positive cancers.

Pertuzumab only works for HER2 positive cancer, by locking onto HER2 in the cancer cells. It stops them from growing and kills them.

Find out more about the drug

Around 53,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK, and up to 1 in 4 of those are HER2-positive.

The approval came following a deal between NHS England and Roche over the cost of the drug.

Samuel said he was pleased to see the negotiations taking place to ensure patients can access the best treatments.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said the decision was a long time coming, but that she was pleased at tough negotiation and flexibility by NHS England and NICE, and the willingness of Roche to compromise on price.

Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, welcomed the decision but expressed frustration that women in Scotland are now at an unfair disadvantage since the drug was rejected seven months ago.

"Anxious waits for vital drugs…must be consigned to history,” she said. “And it is also crucial the fundamentals of cancer treatment do not suffer in a struggling NHS. Delivering the best care possible for people living with incurable breast cancer cannot be neglected."