PUBLISHED ON: 20 April 2021

A new targeted drug for treating breast cancer that has spread has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for use on the Cancer Drugs Fund.

dozens of pills of all shapes and sizes spread out on a counter

'Fantastic news'

The drug, trastuzumab deruxtecan, is also known by the brand name Enhertu. 

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: 'Today’s approval of trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu) is fantastic news for hundreds of patients with HER2 positive incurable secondary breast cancer who desperately need new effective targeted treatments which can delay the use of chemotherapy, its debilitating side effects and reduced quality of life.'

Breast Cancer Now has been involved in every step of the assessment of this drug, including making sure patients’ voices were heard by decision-makers. 

We hope NICE will be able to approve this treatment for routine use on the NHS following its time on the Cancer Drugs Fund. 

What type of drug is it? 

Trastuzumab deruxtecan is a combination of two drugs.  

The first is a drug that’s similar to the targeted therapy drug trastuzumab. Targeted therapies like trastuzumab block the growth and spread of cancer. 

The second drug, known as deruxtecan or DXd, is a chemotherapy drug. Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells.  

Who is it for? 

Trastuzumab deruxtecan is suitable for people whose cancer is HER2 positive and has spread to another part of the body (secondary breast cancer) or cannot be removed by surgery.  

It’s given to people who have already had two or more treatments specifically for HER2 positive breast cancer. 

How does it work? 

Some breast cancer cells have a higher than normal level of a protein called HER2 on their surface, which stimulates them to grow. 

Trastuzumab works by attaching itself to the HER2 proteins so that the cancer cells are no longer stimulated to grow. It also helps the body’s immune system destroy breast cancer cells. 

When the trastuzumab attaches to the proteins, it delivers deruxtecan directly into the breast cancer cells to kill them.   

Trastuzumab deruxtecan also has a ‘bystander effect’. This means it can also kill neighbouring cells even if they do not have a higher level of HER2 on their surface. 

‘Life-changing’

Claire Myerson, 51 years old from Oxfordshire, has been living with incurable secondary breast cancer in her bones for six years.

‘For five years now I’ve been holding out hope that I would stay alive long enough to see the introduction of new and effective treatments that could offer me the chance to keep living as well as possible and continue doing the things I love,' said Claire.

‘The approval of trastuzumab deruxtecan (Enhertu) could finally make this a reality and be life-changing for patients like me.

‘It’s new targeted treatments that are keeping me alive and offering me the hope that I will see my children grow into young adults, feel well enough to spend quality time with my friends and family, and make every day a special day.’

Where is the new drug available? 

The new drug has been made available on the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).  

The CDF gives people in England access to promising new cancer drugs.  

While the CDF covers England, the drugs on the fund also benefit people in Wales and Northern Ireland. 

In Scotland, the Scottish Medicines Consortium is expected to assess this treatment for use on the NHS in Scotland this year. 

'More precious time'

Responding to the news, Baroness Delyth Morgan said: 'Crucially, this promising new targeted treatment may potentially offer patients more time before their disease progresses or may extend their lives, meaning more precious time with their loved ones, than chemotherapy brings. We look forward to further results to understand whether this new treatment could offer patients extra time to live.

'Women who’ve already had two or more targeted treatments and are fast running out of innovative options will be able to access Enhertu much sooner thanks to the Cancer Drugs Fund enabling promising treatments to reach patients on the NHS quickly while further data is collected.'

What happens next? 

While the drug is available on the CDF, evidence will be collected on how well the drug works. After this period, NICE will decide whether the drug can be made routinely available on the on the NHS.

 

Breast Cancer Now offers information and support to anyone living with secondary breast cancer. Find out more.

Secondary breast cancer