Wider use of breast cancer drug urged after ‘unprecedented’ benefits

A breast cancer drug has shown "unprecedented" benefits in extending lives in a clinical trial and experts urged its widespread use for women with an aggressive form of the disease.

Wider use of breast cancer drug urged after ‘unprecedented’ benefits

Patients with a type of breast cancer known as HER2 positive — which makes up about a quarter of all breast cancers — who were given Perjeta on top of older medicine Herceptin and chemotherapy, lived 15.7 months longer than those on Herceptin and chemotherapy alone.

That is the longest extension to survival ever seen for a drug studied in metastatic breast cancer, where disease has spread to other parts of the body.

“The results, I think, are phenomenal,” lead researcher Sandra Swain, from the Washington Hospital Centre, told the European Society for Medical Oncology annual congress in Madrid.

“The survival improvement of nearly 16 months... is unprecedented among studies of metastatic breast cancer.”

Perjeta, approved by regulators two years ago, was tested in a study involving more than 800 women. It was backed by Swiss drugmaker Roche, which has a plant in Ireland.

However, the body tasked in Ireland with assessing whether new drugs represent value for money ruled last year that Perjeta is not cost-effective, and recommended the HSE not fund the drug for public patients.

The National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics estimates the drug would result in an additional treatment cost of about €74,000 per patient and a gross budget impact of about €39m over the next five years.

The final decision on funding the drug rests with the HSE, which said it was not commenting as an assessment process is ongoing.

Separately, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher has warned that lives are being lost because of the Government’s failure to extend the Breastcheck programme to women aged 65-69. The 2011 Programme for Government committed to an extension of the service during the lifetime of the government and their Future Health document committed to its extension in 2014.

Mr Kelleher said he would be supporting the Irish Cancer Society’s petition demanding the extension of screenings.

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