Hundreds of breast cancer patients are expected to benefit after a sought-after drug was approved for use by the NHS in Scotland in certain circumstances.
The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has given the green light to Perjeta as a new treatment option before surgery for patients with early-stage breast cancer.
The decision brings patients in Scotland level with people in this category south of the border – a fact welcomed by campaigners who have fought for access to the drug.
However, they have now called on the SMC to approve Perjeta for patients living with secondary, incurable breast cancer. A decision on that issue is expected in January.
Angela Harris, head of Breast Cancer Care Scotland, said: “After multiple attempts, this long-overdue decision finally brings women in Scotland, with a certain type of breast cancer, onto an equal footing with those in England.
“Care must not be one size fits all and access to Perjeta will ultimately provide more effective, tailored treatment.
“We hear from women every day who are utterly devastated after losing a breast, often leaving them with rock-bottom body confidence and a shattered sense of self.
“Excitingly, this drug offers the chance to shrink the tumour, which can mean less invasive and dramatic surgery.
“It is now imperative that the SMC approves Perjeta next month for women living with secondary, incurable breast cancer.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that a life-extending drug is available across the border when women in Scotland are denied access, along with the precious extra time it can bring.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Miles Briggs, who lost his mother to the disease when he was seven years old, has campaigned for the drug to be available to all women who need it.
He said: “This is a big step forward, but it isn’t far enough. We now need to see action to deliver access to Perjeta for secondary breast cancer patients in Scotland too.
“We must ensure that women with incurable cancer, for whom this drug benefits the most, also get access to it as soon as possible.”
According to campaigners, Perjeta can extend the life of women with terminal breast cancer by up to 16 months.
Perjeta, also known as pertuzumab, was accepted for use at an early stage and prior to surgery following consideration via the SMC’s patient and clinician engagement (PACE) process, for medicines used at the end of life and for very rare conditions.
Manufacturer Roche has estimated that 415 patients per year in Scotland could be eligible to receive Perjeta before surgery.
Richard Erwin, Roche’s general manager, said: “We’re delighted by this news, which is the result of a successful collaboration between Roche and SMC.
“Roche will now work closely with SMC to enable patient access to Perjeta in its other licensed indications.”
Dr Iain Macpherson, consultant medical oncologist at the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow, said: “We often treat patients with HER2-positive early breast cancer with a course of chemotherapy and trastuzumab to shrink their cancer before they have surgery.
“By adding Perjeta, we increase the chances of eliminating the cancer in the breast and we know that this is associated with good long-term outcomes. This is a positive development for patients with breast cancer in Scotland.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman described the SMC’s decision as “very welcome”.
On Monday, the SMC also accepted nivolumab (Opdivo) to treat advanced melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
Ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) was given the green light for treatment of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) and the committee also accepted ciclosporin (Verkazia) eye drops for a rare, chronic inflammatory allergic condition that affects the eye.