Cost of new cancer drug should not stop the fight

Steve's baby daughter made amazing progress this week, or so his wife thought

STEVE CANAVAN: It was a lot of rattle over just a little roll

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For a woman dying from a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, being given an extra six months to live could mean the world.

It might give her the chance to say goodbyes to friends she would have missed in the normal run of events. There would certainly be more time to pull together all those loose ends as the end approaches.

Today’s heartening news that a new drug – Perjeta – has been approved for use in the UK after trials at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, will bring some comfort to those women who have the disease coupled with high levels of the protein HER2. This causes the tumours in the breast to grow bigger more quickly.

The drug was tested on 12 women at the hospital in the past two years. It extended each patient’s life by an average six months and in that time the cancer did not get worse.

Of course, this is not a cure, but it is a significanct development. It has certainly got consultant medical oncologist Dr Caroline Archer excited.

She says: ‘The approval of Perjeta will come as welcome news for patients in Portsmouth and Hampshire with this difficult-to-treat and very aggressive disease.

‘To have a new treatment option that can extend lives and control cancer for longer than the current gold standard of care, is very exciting for patients and clinicians alike.’

But some might blanche at the price tag.

Perjeta is an antibody treatment which works with chemotherapy. The drug is given as an injection every three weeks... at £2,500 per injection.

Is it really worth the straitened NHS shelling out so much to prolong the life of a woman for just six months? We argue that of course it is.

In relative terms, the cost of cancer treatments we now take for granted – radiography and chemotherapy – would have been equally expensive when first used. And look what they have achieved.

As long as the injections are prescribed cautiously who knows where this drug’s development might lead one day.