Breast cancer drug to be available on NHS

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A drug used around the world to combat breast cancer will be made available on the NHS, it was announced today.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) gave the go ahead for Herceptin to be made available after almost a year of research.

The drug is widely used around the globe and Nice, the Government's medicine watchdog, has come under criticism for delays in making its decision.

Herceptin is not a cure for cancer but is known to prolong life, cancer research groups have claimed.

Professor Gordon McVie, joint Director General of Cancer Research UK, welcomed today's long-awaited decision.

"The decision is great news for women throughout England and Wales and could spell the end of a postcode lottery for patients with metastatic breast cancer," he said.

"All eligible women, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, should now have free access to the drug on the NHS."

"The improvements in survival from herceptin both as a single agent and in combination with paclitaxel are well documented."

Prof McVie said seven out of 10 women with breast cancer are now successfully treated in the UK but survival figures for women with HER2 positive metastatic breast cancer have the worst outlook, with an average survival time of less than a year.

"Nice's guidance will bring fresh optimism for patients who previously had little hope," he said.

"Women can currently be tested for HER2 at labs in Nottingham, Glasgow, and at the Royal Marsden in London. In line with the announcement from Nice, Cancer Research UK looks to an increase in the number of centres with testing facilities in the UK.

"Women in health authorities across England and Wales will now have equal access to a treatment which is proven to not only increase survival but also improve quality of life."

Nice has been assessing Herceptin since February 2001 but faced criticism last week from the Tories who condemned it for "delaying" the introduction of the drug.

Tory health spokesman Simon Burns said up to 5,000 women suffering from an aggressive form of breast cancer could have had their quality of life and their life expectancy extended by the use of Herceptin.

Mr Burns said: "Other countries around the world have already approved and are using this drug in the fight against breast cancer, and I think it is both cruel and unfair that it is taking so long for Nice to complete its appraisal of this drug when so many women are tragically dying of breast cancer."

Nice has also been under criticism for the way it selects new drugs and medical technologies to review for their clinical worth and value for money.

Plans to open up the way Nice picks new medical treatments to appraise were announced by ministers earlier this month.

The Department of Health launched a three-month public consultation on ways of making the process more open and giving more say to patients.

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