Breast cancer campaigners unlock revolutionary drug

The campaigners: Back row L-R - Lesley Stephen, Lesley Graham, Anne MacLean-Chang. Front row - Alison Tait.
The campaigners: Back row L-R - Lesley Stephen, Lesley Graham, Anne MacLean-Chang. Front row - Alison Tait.
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The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has announced a landmark decision to make the revolutionary breast cancer drug, Kadcyla, routinely available on Scotland’s NHS.

The decision, which will see Kadcyla made routinely available for the first time in Scotland, comes after four Scots mums living with incurable secondary breast cancer led a campaign – alongside charity Breast Cancer Now – to unlock the drug.

Over 13,000 people signed a petition to make the drug routinely available in Scotland, which was presented to the SMC and drug manufacturer Roche.

It is estimated that over 100 women in Scotland could now benefit from Kadcyla every year.

When breast cancer spreads to another part of the body, known as secondary breast cancer, it sadly becomes incurable. Kadcyla is a targeted treatment for women with a certain type of secondary breast cancer, HER2 positive. It is a ‘second-line treatment’, meaning that it is given to those patients whose condition has progressed since they first received treatment for secondary breast cancer.

The drug has been shown to extend life on average by an extra six months compared to existing treatments, with some women able to live on it for years. Kadcyla specifically targets cancerous cells, leaving healthy cells untouched, meaning that it also has fewer side-effects compared to other treatment options.

Scotland will now join 18 other countries that already offer patients Kadcyla including the US, Canada, Australia, France and Germany. However, thousands of women across England, Wales and Northern Ireland still await a decision on whether Kadcyla will be made routinely available across the rest of the UK.

Mary Allison, Breast Cancer Now’s director for Scotland, said: “This decision will transform treatment options for women with HER2 positive secondary breast cancer in Scotland. I’d like to thank everyone who supported the Unlock Kadcyla petition, but most of all the four inspirational women who were the driving force behind the campaign. This success belongs to our campaigners Anne, Lesley, Alison and Lesley, who joined with us to launch the petition.

“We are pleased that the SMC and Roche have worked together to unlock this revolutionary drug. We hope this will be just the start of improved access to breast cancer medicines in Scotland.

“Both the Scottish Government and Breast Cancer Now share the same vision of making sure that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live. If we are to achieve this, we’ll need to ensure that patients in Scotland are able to access the best possible treatments – and today is a real step forward for women with HER2 positive disease.”

Alison Tait, from Edinburgh is a single parent living with secondary breast cancer. She has been campaigning for the SMC to approve Kadcyla as she may benefit from the drug in the future. She said: “Women like me and their families have been given a lifeline. I couldn’t be happier.

“Secondary breast cancer is frightening. Nothing is certain anymore. It’s drugs like Kadcyla that can give you back hope for the future and a bit of normality.

“I’m not thinking about me today. I’m thinking about my daughter Ellen. I’m glad that this drug, and the extra time it gives, will be available to all women who need it. For my family it means that Ellen and I have the best chance of sharing those big life moments together – that we can share more of life.”

Mum-of-four Lesley Stephen, from Edinburgh, has been at the heart of the campaign to unlock Kadcyla. Lesley’s Individual Patient Treatment Request (IPTR) for the drug Kadcyla was refused forcing her to fund treatment herself.

She said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with the decision. Most importantly it means that no one will have to fight against bureaucracy or spend their life savings to get this drug.

“This is a huge win for women with secondary breast cancer in Scotland and I’m proud to have been part of a campaign to make this happen.”

Mum-of-two, Anne MacLean-Chang from Larbert joined the campaign to unlock Kadcyla after she was forced to battle Health Boards in order to receive the drug. Anne said: “Kadcyla has allowed me to get on with my life. I have the same quality of living that I had prior to my diagnosis of secondary breast cancer and I suffer no ill effects from the drug, which is wonderful!

“I know secondary breast cancer is incurable, but I now have hope for more of a future with my family. We can get on with living and enjoying precious time together. It’s been invaluable.

“We all deserve the best chance at life and women with incurable breast cancer are no different.

“Today’s decision was the right thing to do and I commend the SMC and Roche for reaching a deal to unlock Kadcyla.”

Mum-of-two and campaigner Lesley Graham from Glasgow was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer last year and also faced a battle to access the drug. Lesley said: “We’ve made huge progress in helping women with our type of breast cancer.

“It just shows you what can be achieved when we come together and fight for what’s right. Women going through this disease won’t face a battle to get this drug anymore. They can focus on making memories with the ones they love. That’s amazing.

“Thanks to everyone who has listened and shared our stories or signed the petition. It means the world to women like us.”