Kadcyla: why breast cancer drug won't be on the NHS

Aug 8, 2014

Another 'huge blow' to cancer patients, as campaigners call on drug companies to bring down costs

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A "revolutionary" new breast cancer treatment will not be available on the NHS due to its high cost, the government's drug regulator has announced.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said it could not recommend Kadcyla, one of the most expensive cancer drugs sold in England, to the NHS because it was not cost effective.

Currently only available through the Cancer Drug Fund, which helps fund expensive treatments for a small number of patients, campaigners have been pushing for the life-extending drug to become available on the NHS, so that up to 1,500 extra people could benefit from it. 

What is Kadcyla?

It is a targeted antibody therapy which aggressively attacks cancer cells while preventing healthy tissue from being damaged. It is administered intravenously to breast cancer patients with an inoperable cancer that has spread from the breast and is no longer responding to other treatment.

What are its benefits?

The drug has been proven to extend life by an average of six-months, with some patients living far longer. Unlike other cancer treatments, Kadcyla has few side-effects. Researchers say it will allow patients to live longer with a better quality of life.

Kimberley Mawby, who was part of a clinical trial of the drug, called it "amazing". She told the BBC: "I don't feel ill, the side-effects are so minimal [and] I lead a really normal life. 

How much does it cost?

The drug costs roughly £90,000 per patient based on 14 month course of treatment. Nice cannot recommend drugs that cost more than £30,000 per patient, The Guardian reports.

Lengthy negotiations were carried out between the drug company Roche and the regulator over the price of Kadcyla. Roche said it had offered to "substantially" lower the price, but Nice insisted that the undisclosed offer was still too high to accept. 

What has the response been?

Both sides have expressed disappointment at the result. Nice accused the drug firm of being "inflexible", while Roche called the decision to deny patients access to the drug "an incredible injustice". The pharmaceutical company has said it intends to appeal the decision.

Breast cancer charities have described the news as a "huge blow", targeting most of their criticism towards Roche and other pharmaceutical companies. They argue that prices for life-saving drugs need to come down urgently so that all cancer patients are able to receive the best possible treatment. 

"It's impossible to put a price on life's precious moments", said Sally Greenbrook from Breakthrough Breast Cancer. "But it's not impossible to put a fair price on drugs.” 

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