Pfizer gives life-extending breast cancer drug to NHS for free

It is estimated that around 6,000 patients across the UK would be eligible for palbociclib each year

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The Independent Online

A “ground breaking” drug to treat breast cancer is set to be made available to thousands of NHS patients across the UK for free, thanks to manufacturer Pfizer.

In February, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), which decides whether new treatments should be available on the NHS in England, provisionally rejected palbociclib for routine use because it believed it was too expensive for the benefits it provided.

But now Pfizer has said it will provide the drug free of charge for up to five months until a final decision is made by Nice.

It is estimated that around 6,000 patients across the UK would be eligible to receive palbociclib each year. The drug prolongs life by an average of 10 months in comparison with existing treatments and has been hailed by oncologists as one of the most important advances in this field for the past 20 years.

Fiona Hazell, director of policy and engagement at the charity Breast Cancer Now, said the interim measure means more than sixteen women every day could have their lives changed during the five-month period.

“This is an unexpected lifeline for thousands of women living with this type of breast cancer. Palbociclib can offer a large proportion of patients with incurable metastatic breast cancer significant extra time before their disease progresses – time that can be truly invaluable to them and their loved ones,” she said.

Ms Hazell added that she is encouraging any patients who think they might be eligible for the treatment to speak to their doctors, and urged Nice to reach an agreement with Pfizer that would make it available on the NHS to anyone who needs it.

Pfizer has also said that women who are offered the drug for free during the interim period will not be taken off it if it is rejected for NHS use, and they will not have to start paying.

A spokesperson for Pfizer told The Independent: “Acknowledging calls from physicians and patient groups across the UK for timely access to palbociclib, Pfizer has made the decision, in this instance, to provide palbociclib free-of-charge whilst the appraisal process continues.

“Pfizer believes women with metastatic breast cancer deserve access as soon as possible to this innovative medicine that has been shown to significantly increase progression free survival, the length of time for which a patient’s disease does not worsen when used in combination with an aromatase inhibitor.”

There were around 11,400 breast cancer deaths in the UK in 2014 or 31 deaths every day, according to Cancer Research UK.

That year breast cancer was also the third most common cause of cancer death in the country.