THE BLOG
07/10/2015 14:08 BST | Updated 07/10/2016 06:12 BST

It's Time Roche Stopped Putting an Unaffordable Price on Women's Lives

We need to talk about Kadcyla. One month has now passed since NHS England announced that the breast cancer drug Kadcyla would be delisted from the Cancer Drugs Fund, and in one more month it will no longer be available to new patients unless NHS England and the manufacturer, Roche, can cut a deal on price.

This is a situation that we simply cannot accept. Kadcyla is a revolutionary drug that is proven to offer, on average, six months of precious life-extension - and of good quality for most - to women with secondary breast cancer, where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and has become incurable.

It is part of a new generation of treatments tailored to advanced cancers that have stopped responding to other therapies. It specifically targets HER2-positive cancerous cells leaving healthy cells relatively untouched, reducing the side-effects normally associated with chemotherapy.

Put simply, it is the only hope and last resort for 780 women with advanced breast cancer each year who have exhausted other treatment options. In one month's time that hope will be taken away from new patients (although patients already using Kadcyla will be able to continue to access the drug).

The fundamental problem being that the drug is priced too highly. Although it is widely accepted to be highly clinically effective, at the publicly listed price Kadcyla costs at least £70,000 a year per patient and it therefore now falls short of the cost-benefit inclusion criteria for the Cancer Drugs Fund.

When Kadcyla was initially rejected for routine use on the NHS by NICE due to cost in April 2014 it was a huge blow, but a blow softened by the fact that this pioneering new drug was subsequently made available to patients on the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Over the last 18 months, we've heard amazing stories from women accessing the drug; whilst on paper Kadcyla offers an average of six months life-extension, we've spoken to women who have now been on it for a year and a half and counting, alive and relatively well.

Its subsequent delisting means that, from early November, it will be unavailable to new patients unless Roche and NHS England cut a deal.

We are now halfway through the two-month notice period in which the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS can negotiate before the delisted treatments are permanently removed from the Fund, but we have not yet seen any progress and patients are becoming increasingly anxious.

Both parties must be more flexible. There is absolutely no excuse for the fact that a short-term solution has not been found, and while negotiations remain 'ongoing', I think both Roche and NHS England should be ashamed of the position in which their current stalemate is putting patients and their doctors.

At Breast Cancer Now, we are certainly not prepared to just stand here and watch. For women at an advanced stage of the disease - many of whom have already been forced to come to terms with the fact that they will not live to see significant moments in their families' lives - the six months of additional, good quality life that Kadcyla can offer is priceless. It is an invaluable six months in which to cram a lifetime of family memories.

The stand-off over Kadcyla for breast cancer patients is an intolerable symptom of a much, much wider problem.

At the most basic level: the fact that our current system cannot deal with new innovation in the development of breast cancer treatments is inexcusable.

Kadcyla is the standard of care in many other countries across the world; it is unbelievable that a fantastic treatment that offers significant extra time to patients with few side-effects has been developed, and women in the UK cannot access it. Particularly at a time when the Government has publicly pledged to elevate our cancer outcomes to among the best in Europe.

What's more, the CDF was always intended to be a temporary solution while the wider problem of drug pricing and access was reviewed and reformed.

The unfortunate irony of the CDF is that it was set up to pay for expensive, life-extending drugs that the NHS couldn't afford, and it is now the more expensive drugs that are the ones being taking off it, despite their effectiveness.

What was established as a short-term sticking plaster is now not only failing its purpose, it is an option that will soon no longer exist: the CDF expires in March 2016 and it remains to be seen how it will be replaced, if at all.

We urgently need to see movement by all parties towards a more sustainable drugs system that will not require endless brinksmanship between the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS at the expense of patients caught in the middle.

But while we wait for this long-term solution, patients' lives are at stake and we need short-term concessions from industry to ensure continued access to Kadcyla.

With time running out, we believe that responsibility for now lies with Roche to drop the price to a level that the NHS can afford while the government and other stakeholders get on with reforming the wider system.

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To this end, we have taken the unprecedented step of launching a petition direct to the manufacturer to ask them to reduce the price of the drug to enable it to remain available to patients in the short-term through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

We're not asking Roche to give Kadcyla away for free; we are simply asking them to offer the NHS a price that is affordable until a long-term solution can be found, and give clinicians the tools they need to help secondary breast cancer patients.

But we need your help. Together, we need to make a noise that cannot be ignored. If you believe, as we do, that it's time Roche did the right thing and offered a reasonable price for Kadcyla, please do call for change by signing the petition. Just a minute of your time could help give these women more precious time to live.

Please sign our online petition to ask Roche drop the price of Kadcyla to a level that the NHS can afford before it's too late. We need to give women living with secondary breast cancer more time to live.