Up to 8,000 women a year will benefit from two life-changing breast cancer drugs that will be routinely prescribed for the first time.
In a major victory for the NHS, the two pharmaceutical giants behind the treatments were forced to substantially lower their prices.
This meant the NHS rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), could approve them for routine use nine months after they were initially rejected.
The drugs, palbociclib and ribociclib, have been hailed as the ‘closest thing to a cure’ for women with incurable breast cancer.
Up to 8,000 women a year will benefit from two life-changing breast cancer drugs that will be routinely prescribed for the first time (stock image)
Taken as daily pills, they stop cancer cells dividing and spreading by blocking the action of two key proteins.
They would normally cost £35,000 a year per patient but Nice negotiated an undisclosed, lower fee with the manufacturers Pfizer and Novartis.
Trials have shown they extend the lives of patients with incurable breast cancer that has spread to other organs by an average of ten months.
But some women are still alive three years after receiving the drugs, working full time and travelling the world.
The drugs were rejected by Nice in February on the grounds that they were too expensive and offered only limited benefits. But the rationing body now says it can approve them after negotiating ‘discounts’ with the manufacturers.
Until now, there have been no effective treatments for incurable breast cancer. Women are usually offered chemotherapy to temporarily slow its spread but this has crippling side effects, and many feel it is not worth it.
Trials have shown they extend the lives of patients with incurable breast cancer that has spread to other organs by an average of ten months (stock image)
Baroness Delyth Morgan, of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘This is a life-changing and long-awaited step forward, potentially offering thousands of women the closest thing they would have to a cure in their lifetime. But these advances are often coming at considerable delay, leaving patients in anxious uncertainty. We urgently need a more efficient drug system.’
Professor Nicholas Turner, from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, who carried out one of the trials into the drugs, described them as ‘one of the most important breakthroughs for women with advanced breast cancer in the past two decades’.
Up to 45,000 patients are diagnosed with breast cancer in England each year and one in eight women will develop it at some point in their lifetime.
The drugs will initially be offered to those with incurable or ‘metastatic’ breast cancer that has spread to their lungs, bones, liver, brain or other organs.
But researchers believe they will eventually be prescribed to tens of thousands of women with early stage breast cancer and replace chemotherapy.
Charities have criticised Nice and the EU drugs watchdog, the European Medicines Agency, for not approving the drugs earlier.
They have been available to women in the US for nearly two years. Some British women have been paying up to £156,000 a year to buy them from America.
The two drugs have slightly different side effects including tiredness and nausea, although these are much milder than those of chemotherapy.
Doctors will decide which of the two drugs to give patients based on their medical history and the side effects.
The pills that let writer get on with normal life
Vikki Orvice, pictured, started taking one of the daily pills in 2014
Vikki Orvice, pictured right, started taking one of the daily pills in 2014.
Three years on, she is still working full time as a sports writer and travelling the world covering events.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 but tumours had spread to other sites and she was told it was incurable.
Doctors at the Royal Marsden Hospital in central London gave her chemotherapy and hormonal drugs that initially stopped the cancer advancing.
But in 2014 they discovered a tumour in one of her vertebrae and offered her daily palbociclib pills as part of a clinical trial. She suffered few side effects and was able to work full time and cover the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and the Olympics in Brazil last year.
The 55-year-old, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, said: ‘Patients should knock on their doctors’ doors and ask for this drug.
‘It enables you to live a normal life. Even an extra ten months will mean a lot to a lot of people.’ Last year doctors decided to start her on a different course of treatment because they believed the drugs were losing their effect. Despite this, the pills had kept the cancer at bay for two years, more than double the ten-month average for those taking them.