Women with an aggressive form of breast cancer will benefit from a potentially ‘life-saving’ new drug on the NHS.
Some 1,600 patients in England with triple-negative breast cancer will be offered pembrolizumab after authorities reached a confidential agreement with the manufacturer.
Research suggests that taking immunotherapy with chemotherapy before surgery and then continuing pembrolizumab alone after surgery increases the chances of eradicating the cancer. It also increases the time before the cancer returns, according to research.
Breast Cancer Now welcomed the news and said women with this type of breast cancer previously faced the “frightening reality of limited treatment options”.
Triple-negative breast cancer is a less common but more aggressive type of breast cancer.
It accounts for about 15% of all breast cancer cases and is more common in younger patients, black women, and those with a specific BRCA1 gene mutation.
A quarter of all breast cancer deaths are attributable to triple negative breast cancer.
Final draft guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) state that some patients in England should be eligible for the drug, also known as Keytruda and manufactured by MSD.
Immunotherapy, delivered through the bloodstream, targets and blocks a specific protein on the surface of certain immune cells which then seek out and destroy cancer cells.
Commenting on the news, Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “This new treatment has the potential to cause any detectable cancer to disappear at the time of surgery, which means patients will then eventually face a less invasive and breast-conserving surgery.
“Furthermore, by greatly reducing the likelihood of breast cancer recurring or spreading to other parts of the body where it becomes an incurable secondary breast cancer, this treatment provides valuable hope that more lives could potentially be saved from this devastating disease.”
“Extremely significant moment”
Earlier this year, the drug was made available to about 100 women a year with advanced triple-negative breast cancer.
Today’s announcement means hundreds more will be able to access the drug and increases the chances of stopping the progression of cancer and creating the possibility of long-term cancer-free survival for patients.
Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of the NHS, said it was a “hugely important time for women”.
Helen Knight, acting director of drug evaluation at Nice, said: “Triple negative breast cancer has a relatively poor prognosis and there are few effective treatments compared to other types of the disease.
“Today’s draft guidance means that we have now recommended three new treatments for routine use in the NHS since June, helping to meet this unmet need and giving hope for a longer and healthier life. better to thousands of people.”
The NHS in England said it had already reached an agreement with the manufacturer so it could supply the drug to patients as soon as possible.