Breast cancer victims to be denied life-extending drug

Up to 2,000 women with advanced breast cancer will not be given access on the NHS to a drug that could extend their lives, it was announced yesterday.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which makes Tyverb (lapatinib), said the medicine was an effective treatment for advanced breast cancer. But the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has rejected it for use on the NHS in England, citing high costs and the fact it only extends life by a few weeks.

Tyverb is a pill used in combination with the chemotherapy Xeloda (capecitabine) for women with hormone-sensitive advanced breast cancer. It is a last resort for those whose treatment with standard chemotherapies and Herceptin has failed.

According to GSK, Tyverb could increase survival by around three months compared with Xeloda alone. Tyverb is funded in 18 countries including the Czech Republic, Iceland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

However, in final draft guidance which is subject to appeal, Nice said the drug does "not represent good value for money when compared with the alternative... treatment". Sir Andrew Dillon, Nice's chief executive, said the watchdog had been looking at Tyverb for breast cancer since 2007.

"We are disappointed not to be able to recommend lapatinib but evidence suggests it only extends life by a small amount of time – around 10 weeks (2.4 months) – and costs thousands of pounds more than [a] more commonly used NHS treatment for this indication (Xeloda, capecitabine) on its own."

Maggie Alexander, director at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "It is crucial to remember that this drug would not be suitable for all, and patients should speak to their doctor regarding appropriate treatments available to them."

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