A new breast cancer treatment that increases the survival time of sufferers by up to 6 months could be available for health insurance patients late next year.
The drug, known as T-DM1, is the first drug of its kind for breast cancer. It combines Herceptin with a powerful chemotherapy agent, and is designed to penetrate cancer cells and destroy them from within.
In an international trial involving 991 women the drug extended the lives of patients with HER-2 positive breast cancer by 30.9 months, compared with 25.1 months with standard therapy.
Presenting the results at the European Society for Medical Oncology’s annual meeting in Vienna, the researchers said that because the action of T-DM1 is very precise, a toxic form of chemotherapy can be used with fewer side effects.
Paul Ellis, professor of cancer medicine at King’s College, London, said: “These results are truly outstanding and will positively alter the outlook and outcomes for patients.
“Drugs used at this stage of the disease often make women feel worse, but the beauty of this treatment is that it costs women fewer side effects such as hair loss and improves their quality of life.”
Around one in five women with breast cancer have the HER-2 positive form of the disease, and Professor Ellis believes 1,000 women a year in the UK could benefit from the drug.
T-DM1 works by attaching to part of the cancer cell and preventing it from spreading, at the same time as burrowing into the cell and releasing chemotherapy from within.
Roche hopes to obtain a license to market the drug in the UK late next year. Once licensed, T-DM1 could be available to treat patients with full cancer cover on their health insurance.
The drug will not be made widely available on the NHS until the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has approved it as being cost effective, a process which can take over a year.
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