Watchdogs and campaigners are calling for an end to high prices for breast cancer drugs after pharmaceutical giant Roche has priced its new treatment at over £90,000 - a price at which the NHS cannot afford to provide care.
NICE, the NHS regulating body which sets health guidelines across England and Wales, says the price for Roche's Kadcyla drug is "unjustifiable", with chief executive Sir Andrew Dillion expressing his disappointment that Roche had failed to recognise the financial challenges faced by the current NHS. Roche responded by stating that the cost reflected "years of work" - but the fact remains that unless the price comes down, this could be the third Roche-produced breast cancer drug to be rejected by the NHS.
Kadcyla, also known as trastuzumab emtansine, is a drug for women with HER2-receptor-positive cancer. It seeks out and destroys cancerous cells, using an innovative method which means that the side-effects usually seen in chemo treatment are generally not present - and the results can extend a dying patient's life by up to six months. It's currently estimated that around 1,500 women in Britain could benefit from the drug.
At the moment, the drug is available through the government's Cancer Drugs Fund, but this programme is due to close in 2016. From then on, patients will not have access to the treatment on the NHS.
However, there is now a consultation period taking place, during which time discussions between the concerned parties - Roche, NICE and the NHS - may yield a suitable solution to ensure that patients receive the quality of care that they need.
Dr Caitlin Palframan, working for breast cancer charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, commented on the concerns: "We are now looking to the Department of Health and the pharmaceutical industry to find a way to work together to bring the cost of expensive drugs down and put a sustainable system in place by which new treatments can be made available on the NHS on a routine basis.
"Until then it appears NICE will be forced to reject these cutting-edge treatments, some of which are capable of providing women facing terminal breast cancer diagnoses with extra time with their loved ones, which is the very least they deserve."