Breast cancer test gets green light after drug firm cuts cost

A POTENTIALLY life-saving breast cancer test, which the HSE initially said did not represent value for money, has been given the green light by the state after the drug firm involved significantly lowered the cost.

A decision on the Oncotype DX test was delayed in August after the HSE’s National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics said the taxpayer could not afford to make it available.

While the centre’s statement was one of only three parts of an overall decision on the product, it meant there was serious doubt over whether the test would be publicly available. This led advocacy groups to say the HSE was putting budgets before patients’ needs.

However, the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) yesterday said it will be available to patients from this week onwards.

The Irish Examiner understands the U-turn was made after negotiations between the HSE and the pharmaceutical firm behind the product, Genome Health Ireland, led to a significant cost reduction.

An NCCP spokesperson declined to confirm the saving involved, as the figure is “competition-sensitive”.

The Oncotype DX test could spare up to 500 women a year from having to endure chemotherapy.

The test can be used to check if tumours are confined to the breast or have spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit, requiring chemotherapy.

It can also clarify whether tumours are linked to oestrogen levels, allowing doctors to make a decision on whether tumours can be treated via hormone blockers and surgery.

The centre initially said that, “based on the submitted price” of €3,200 per patient, the HSE would not be able to offer it to public patients.

However, new cost projections have led to a change in position.

The Oncotype DX test was the first product put forward for a final decision to the newly created NCCP technology review committee.

This group — which is run by frontline doctors and nurses, as well as specialists in epidemiology, statistics, pharmacy and pharmacoeconomics — has been tasked with making value-for-money and patient-care recommendations to senior HSE management.

While it is chaired by the HSE senior pharmacist, the group is focussed on the views of specialists working on the ground with the patients who could benefit from the products it is examining.

The committee will be asked to put forward its opinions on a wide range of future drugs and tests which may be brought on board by the HSE.

This is expected to help bring down the health service’s drugs and technology bill, which is a significant contributor for expenditure for the system.

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