A new breast cancer drug could extend the lives of patients with an advanced form of the disease by almost five years, a study has found.
Women with an aggressive type of cancer, or secondary breast cancer as it is also known, which has been traditionally hard to treat could benefit from using perjeta as a combination therapy with chemotherapy and herceptin, researchers said.
A trial into the effectiveness of the combination of drugs found that survival among women with previously untreated advanced HER2-positive breast cancer was extended by more than four and a half years.
The median overall survival rate for women treated with perjeta with docetaxel (chemotherapy) and herceptin was 56.5 months, compared with 40.8 months for those treated with docetaxel and herceptin alone, according to data presented at the European Society of Medical Oncology in Madrid, Spain.
UK study lead Professor David Miles, consultant medical oncologist at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in north-west London, said: "These results are impressive.
"They show a magnitude of survival benefit which we have never seen before in advanced breast cancer, let alone this particular type, previously regarded as having a poor prognosis and being difficult to treat.
"The observation that women with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer can live alongside their disease for so many years is frankly unprecedented. These data represent a significant step forward in the fight against breast cancer with combination therapies such as this paving the way for cancer treatments in the future."
Perjeta, manufactured by drug company Roche, is a targeted treatment which works to block cancer cell growth and cell signalling.
The drug is currently only available through the Cancer Drugs Fund. In August last year the NHS financial watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, rejected widespread use of the treatment in draft guidance but the final recommendation has not yet been issued.
Dr Sarah Rawlings, assistant director of policy and information at charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "We were very disappointed when both Nice and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) rejected Perjeta for routine use on the NHS last year on the basis of cost but it's not the end of the road.
"Nice have not yet issued their final guidance, the SMC is reassessing it and we know that the manufacturer will have offered some discount to help push it through in Scotland, so we await the results of these appraisals with great interest.
"Whilst women in England can currently get access to Perjeta through the Cancer Drugs Fund, unfortunately there is no such allowance for the rest of the UK, meaning that highly effective but incredibly expensive drugs are not routinely available to those that need them.
"Access to drugs is an ongoing problem and Breakthrough is leading the call for a long-term solution to be found."
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