New breast cancer immunotherapy atezolizumab (Tecentriq) is to be made available in the short term for certain NHS patients with metastatic ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, after manufacturer Roche agreed to fund its use in the UK via an Early Access to Medicines Scheme.

An Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS) provides patients with access to currently unlicensed drugs that could be of benefit to them, for groups where there is significantly unmet need.

The scheme will see atezolizumab, given as a first-line treatment in combination with chemotherapy drug nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane), made available in the interim to patients with untreated locally advanced or metastatic triple negative breast cancer whose cancers produce the marker PD-L1 – with an accompanying test being used to identify women that could benefit.

A major trial (Impassion130) presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology 2018 Congress and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the combination of atezolizumab and chemotherapy was able to delay the progression of the disease by an extra 2.5 months on average compared to chemotherapy alone.
Overall survival results have not yet reported from the trial, but interim results suggest that atezolizumab (with nab-paclitaxel) may offer up to 9.5 additional months of life with those with PD-L1 positive tumours on average, compared to chemotherapy alone.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:

It’s absolutely fantastic news that atezolizumab could now offer a significant advance in care, in the short-term, for a group of patients with very few treatment options to rely on. With this promising therapy currently going through the NICE appraisal process, we now very much hope a long-term solution can be found to ensure it is made routinely available at a price the NHS can afford.

Trials have shown that atezolizumab can give certain patients with incurable ‘triple negative’ breast cancer precious extra time before their disease progresses, and provisional results suggest it could even help extend their lives. The chance to access this immunotherapy sooner could therefore mean the world to them and their loved ones.

With life expectancy still being heartbreakingly short, metastatic triple negative breast cancer remains one of the biggest areas of unmet need in breast cancer. While only an interim measure, it is incredibly exciting to see the potential of this immunotherapy now become a reality in NHS clinics for patients whose cancers produce the marker PD-L1.

This progress also shows the potential for improved flexibility in the system to enable innovative therapies to be made available to patient groups in such desperate need of new options, while the full evidence of their benefit is being collected.

We’d encourage any patients who think they may be eligible for testing to see if they could benefit from atezolizumab in this window to speak to their oncologist and care team.