Breast cancer patients offered wonder drug for free while NHS makes up its mind

Sarah Knapton
Thousands of breast cancer patients will be given free treatment  - Copyright (c) 2015 Rex Features. No use without permission.

 

A drug company has bypassed the NHS funding watchdog to give thousands of breast cancer patients free treatment while the health service decides whether it will pay for the medication. 

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Pfizer said it will supply Ibrance (palbociclib) for up to five months to eligible women until a final decision is made by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) on its use across the NHS.

Around 2,400 women could benefit from the drug, which prolongs life by an average of 10 months. Pfizer has promised it will continue to supply the drug for free even if Nice rule that it is not cost-effective. 

 

Fiona Hazell, Director of Policy and Engagement at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This is an unexpected lifeline for thousands of women living with this type of breast cancer. We are delighted that Pfizer have listened to our campaigners and have found a way to enable patients to access this first-in-class drug in the short term.

“While only an interim measure, more than sixteen women every day could have their lives changed by this drug during this window.

"Palbociclib can offer a large proportion of patients with incurable metastatic breast cancer significant extra time before their disease progresses – time that can be truly invaluable to them and their loved ones."

In numbers | Cancer in the UK

 

Ibrance is for women with hormone-positive, HER2 negative breast cancer that has spread around the body and which has previously not been treated.

Research presented at the world's biggest  cancer conference in Chicago last June showed that women taking Ibrance with another common drug (an aromatase inhibitor) lived 10 months longer without their cancer getting worse as those given standard treatment.

Typically, they enjoyed 24.8 months without their cancer progressing compared with 14.5 months for women on usual treatment. Some women had much better results.

It has been hailed by oncologists as one of the most important advances in the past 20 years. 

Yet in February, Nice issued draft guidance rejecting the drug on cost grounds, causing uproar among charities and cancer experts.

Following Nice's rejection Breast Cancer Now called on Pfizer to explore every possible solution to ensure the drug is made available to NHS patients.

 

The programme is expected to be open for a maximum of five months – closing six weeks after Nice issues final guidance on the drug, or on the 30th September 2017, whichever is earlier – with access being dependent on individual NHS Trusts signing up to the scheme.

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