Scottish women cannot routinely access “life-changing” breast cancer drug available to patients in England

Thursday 1 February 2018      Scotland

While already the gold standard of care in England, Perjeta was rejected for the third time in Scotland in June 2017, with no further discussions planned over its availability

Leading charity Breast Cancer Now has today called for urgent talks to take place between the Scottish Government, drug manufacturer Roche, and the Scottish Medicines Consortium to ensure that Scottish women can access ground-breaking breast cancer drug Perjeta on the NHS.   

The call follows an announcement today (Thursday 1 February) that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved Perjeta for routine use on the NHS in England. 

Today’s decision means that women living in England will continue to receive Perjeta on the NHS while women living in Scotland cannot currently routinely access this highly-effective medicine on the NHS in Scotland.  Breast Cancer Now is calling for all sides to work together to end this injustice for women with secondary breast cancer living in Scotland.

Perjeta – which can give women with incurable HER2 positive metastatic breast cancer nearly 16 months additional life compared to existing treatments – has previously been rejected by the SMC as it was not considered to be cost effective for the NHS in Scotland.  

The drug is licensed as a first-line treatment in combination with Herceptin and docetaxel. Manufactured by Roche, it’s a targeted therapy, which means it targets the HER2 receptors on breast cancer cells and leaves healthy cells untouched – enabling patients to have a much better quality of life during treatment. 

Lawrence Cowan, Policy and Campaigns Manager for Breast Cancer Now in Scotland, said:

“Every woman with incurable breast cancer deserves the best chance at life no matter where in the UK they live.  

“This life-changing drug represents a step change in treatment for women with this type of secondary breast cancer and it must be routinely available to NHS patients in Scotland too. 

“Perjeta’s benefits are extraordinary, offering women with HER2 positive secondary breast cancer the chance of almost 16 precious extra months with their loved ones, compared to existing treatments.  

“The SMC ruled, yet again, in June that Perjeta was not cost-effective for NHS use and it’s an injustice that Scottish patients cannot routinely access a drug that is the standard of care in England. We need urgent talks to break this deadlock and for Roche, the SMC and Scottish Government to work together to find a solution for Scottish patients.  

“The only way women in Scotland can currently access this drug is if they pay for it or appeal for exceptional NHS access through an Individual Patient Treatment Request.  Both options can cause patients significant stress and uncertainty and this is totally unacceptable. 

“The fact that a deal has been reached in England proves that it is possible for this drug to be made available in Scotland at a price the NHS and taxpayer can afford. Everyone needs to work together and end this injustice now. Women with secondary breast cancer in Scotland must not be left behind.”  

Alison Tait, aged 48 from Edinburgh is a single parent living with HER2 positive secondary breast cancer. She has been receiving Perjeta privately through her medical insurance and has been responding well to the drug.

Alison said: 

“Perjeta has been a lifeline for me. When I was first diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer, in August last year, I was told that the cancer had already spread to my liver. The future was frightening and uncertain.  

“It was particularly difficult for my 17 year-old daughter, Ellen, to see me so sick.   

“Then I started taking Perjeta with Herceptin and my quality of life improved dramatically. The drug is successfully keeping the cancer at bay and I have relatively no side effects. In fact, I’m now back at work full time and I’m going to the gym three times a week again. I feel fit and healthy – more like myself. 

“My health insurance provider has just approved my funding for Perjeta for another year but I live in fear that this may not continue.    

“I think it’s a really positive step forward that women can access Perjeta routinely on the NHS in England but what about women living in Scotland? I’m incredibly concerned that this drug is still not available for use on the NHS in Scotland. It’s simply not fair.

“I feel like one of the lucky ones. I’m still here and living a good life with my beautiful daughter. Everyone deserves this, regardless of where they live.”