Abemaciclib, when taken with hormone therapy fulvestrant, can slow the disease and delay the need for gruelling chemotherapy. The twice-daily pill has been available through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), which supports promising treatments while evidence is collected on their effectiveness, since 2019.
But in February the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) announced it would not provisionally recommend the drug for routine use, as it was not cost-effective.
Nice has now revised its decision after manufacturer Lilly agreed a confidential discount with the NHS.
Charity Breast Cancer Now called it “fantastic news” for the 2,500 women who are estimated to be able to benefit from abemaciclib.
Chief executive Baroness Delyth Morgan said: “This decision brings hope to eligible women who could see this combination treatment offer them precious extra months before their disease progresses and it could even help extend their lives.”
Also known by the brand name Verzenios, abemaciclib usually costs £2,950 for 56 tablets.
Meindert Boysen, from Nice, said such drugs “can delay the time before their cancer gets worse and so delay or avoid the need for chemotherapy”.
New draft guidance has recommended abemaciclib with fulvestrant for “hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative” breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, in adults who have had hormone therapy.
The drug works by blocking proteins in cancer cells, which allow the disease to divide and grow.
Dr Mark Verrill, consultant medical oncologist at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I know there will be a palpable sense of relief for my patients who are already on the drug, and their loved ones, that the NHS will continue to fund it in the future.”
I’ve been given my life back
Karen Walls, 61, was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
In 2019, she was told that it had spread to her lungs, liver and bones. She said: “It absolutely floored us as a family because you automatically think the worst.”
The grandmother of four from Washington, Tyne and Wear, was given chemo drug capecitabine but it left her in pain and unable to walk as skin peeled from her hands and feet.
In July 2019, Karen was moved on to abemaciclib, which is stopping progression of her cancer.
She said: “I can get out and about, I have more energy. The side-effects are minimal and manageable. I’ve got my life back.
“It’s brilliant that Nice have reversed their decision. It’s going to be a game-changer.”