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U-turn on NHS funding will extend life for thousands as combination of meds is approved 

Drugs hope for incurable breast cancer patients: U-turn on NHS funding will extend life for thousands as combination of meds is approved

  • Life-extending treatment for women with incurable breast cancer approved
  • The treatment, a combination of drugs, can offer up to nine extra months of life
  • Previously been labelled not cost effective, but health officials have U-turned


A life-extending treatment for thousands of women with incurable breast cancer has been approved after a U-turn by health officials.

The treatment – a combination of cancer drugs – can give some patients an extra nine months to live.

It can also help delay them needing chemotherapy and improve their quality of life during the extra months the treatment can give them.

Earlier this year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence decided not to recommend the combination of the drugs abemaciclib and fulvestrant for routine use in England – saying the treatment was not cost effective. 

A life-extending treatment for thousands of women with incurable breast cancer has been approved after a U-turn by health officials (stock image)

But after a deal was struck with the manufacturer Eli Lilly to discount one of the drugs – Nice has now given it the go-ahead.

Draft guidance recommends the drugs for hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer which has spread to other parts of the body following hormone therapy. 

The drugs work by blocking proteins in cancer cells and preventing them from growing.

Abemaciclib – a twice-daily pill also known by the brand name Verzenios – is usually priced at £2,950 for a packet of 56 tablets. But Nice said it had agreed to a confidential NHS discount.

Meanwhile fulvestrant – a hormone therapy drug – costs around £1,000 for the first 28-day cycle and £522 for subsequent cycles.

The regulator heard from charities including Breast Cancer Now in a consultation about the treatment while more than 60 women shared their experience of the drugs.

Between April and December 2019, 876 patients received the treatment through the NHS’s interim drug approval process.

But now more patients will be able to receive the drugs before their cancer gets worse.

The treatment – a combination of cancer drugs – can give some patients an extra nine months to live. It can also help delay them needing chemotherapy and improve their quality of life during the extra months the treatment can give them (stock image)

Meindert Boysen, director of the centre for health and technology evaluation at Nice, said he was ‘very pleased’ the NHS could now offer the drug combination adding that such treatments are welcomed by patients with incurable advanced breast cancer ‘because they can delay the time before their cancer gets worse and so delay or avoid the need for chemotherapy’.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, head of charity Breast Cancer Now, described the approval as ‘fantastic news’.

She said: ‘This decision brings hope to women who could see this combination treatment offer them precious extra months before their disease progresses. It could even help extend their lives and can also delay the need to start chemotherapy.’

The decision applies to England and Wales and Nice said its final guidance on the drug will be given in September.

‘It’s easy… side effects are minimal’ 

Margaret Jones was diagnosed with hormone receptor- positive, HER2-negative breast cancer several years ago.

She was prescribed abemaciclib with fulvestrant and said the treatment has given her a ‘good quality of life’ and reduced some of her tumours.

The cancer patient from Conwy in North Wales said: ‘I’ve been on abemaciclib with fulvestrant for 13 months…

‘I feel this treatment is effective and in fact from scans I know that the tumours are reducing. It is an easy treatment. I pitch up at hospital every four weeks to get the injections and a new prescription of abemaciclib. I find the side effects are minimal and I have a good quality of life.’

Having previously had chemotherapy, this particular drug combination delays the need to go through the course of time-intensive chemotherapy again and its associated hair loss. ‘[The treatment’s approval] is absolutely fantastic news,’ she said.

Margaret Jones (pictured) was diagnosed with hormone receptor- positive, HER2-negative breast cancer several years ago

Margaret Jones (pictured) was diagnosed with hormone receptor- positive, HER2-negative breast cancer several years ago

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