Cancer drug snub ‘puts price on sufferer’s life’

The drug costs around �8,000 for a 14-month course. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The drug costs around �8,000 for a 14-month course. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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An Edinburgh mum-of-four, dying from breast cancer, has said a medical watchdog’s decision to reject use of a life-extending drug in Scotland “puts a price” on her life.

Lesley Stephen spoke out after the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) refused to recommend “wonder drug” trastuzumab emtansine – known as Kadcyla – for treating patients suffering from the HER2-positive cancer as it was too expensive.

The drug is manufactured by pharmaceuticals firm Roche and costs more than £80,000 for a 14-month course. The treatment is available in England but only through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

The 48-year-old said: “I am devastated by the decision today to reject Kadcyla. I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer six months ago, and since then have been undergoing gruelling chemotherapy to reduce the cancer.

“For the rest of my life I will be dependent on drugs like Kadcyla to keep the cancer at bay. I have been receiving fantastic treatment through the NHS at the moment but I struggle to understand this decision which effectively puts a price on my life.

“It has been hard enough to lose the future life that I had taken for granted, having been diagnosed with this particularly aggressive form of the disease, but knowing that I won’t be able to receive a drug that could help to extend my life and also give me a good quality of life is doubly hard. I’d like to see someone explain this to my four children, and to all those other children out there who will now lose their mothers sooner than they should.”

Campaigners at the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer branded the decision as “simply devastating news” and vowed to fight for its introduction in Scotland.

But SMC chairman Professor James Fox said the decision to not recommend a life-extending medicine is never taken lightly but access to new medicines “cannot come at any price”.

The decision was made using a new Patient and Clinician Engagement (Pace) process which hopes to increase access to treatments for those with terminal illnesses. Prof Fox said: “While the Pace process is a determining factor when we consider medicines like this, and was designed to increase access to such medicines, that access cannot come at any price.

“We have to consider value for money and take account of the needs of all patients who need treatment, not just those affected by the medicine under consideration. NHS Scotland does not have infinite resources.”