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NICE gives breast cancer drugs the green light

Published on 15/08/06 at 02:22pm

Aromatase inhibitors are to become more widely available for post-menopausal women with early breast cancer.

As expected, NICE's final appraisal determination (FAD) has approved the use of aromatase inhibitors (AIs) for post-surgery adjuvant treatment of this disease, which affects more than 23,000 women in the UK every year.

AstraZeneca's Arimidex is the clear market leader in the AI class of drugs, with its two rivals, Novartis' Femara and Pfizer's Aromasin, trailing far behind.

Subject to an appeal being received, NICE said final guidance is expected in November.

Jeffrey Tobias, professor of cancer medicine at University College Hospital, London, said: "We have been waiting for NICE's guidance for nearly two years and this milestone brings us close to ending the postcode lottery for AIs, such as Arimidex, which has been shown to significantly improve women's chances of surviving early breast cancer over and above the benefit seen with tamoxifen."

Prof Tobias, a lead investigator on the steering committee of the ATAC (Arimidex, Tamoxifen Alone or in Combination) international trial, added: "This recommendation brings the UK in line with some other European countries, where AIs have now become the new gold-standard treatment for early breast cancer.

NICE's determination upholds interim guidance given in May that AIs, such as Arimidex, are clinically and cost effective for use in newly diagnosed post-menopausal women with early breast cancer, when given immediately after surgery, and also for patients currently halfway or nearing the end of their tamoxifen treatment.

Arimidex is the first and only AI licensed in the UK for both primary adjuvant and unplanned switch treatment.

"In the current climate, where there are many competing priorities for NHS funding, it is important that clinicians and PCTs grant access to these innovative treatments," Prof Tobias said. "Having AIs freely available on the NHS to all women who need them may help reduce breast cancer recurrence rates in the UK and also improve their quality of life. In my view, Arimidex - which is the least expensive of these therapies - provides good value for the NHS."

Two years ago, cancer patient Anne Donald was prescribed Arimidex after breast cancer surgery, as her medical history indicated she would suffer gynaecological side-effects from taking tamoxifen.

She said: "Finally, other women can benefit as I have - it's been a long wait for this guidance. I was lucky and began taking Arimidex immediately after my surgery and I am continuing to live my life free of cancer."

She added: "Many women have not been so lucky and have not had the same opportunity as me. Now that should change and I am so pleased that other women in my position will now be able to benefit from Arimidex."


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