Lawrence Cowan: Scots women with breast cancer need Perjeta

'If I lived in Newcastle then I could be given over a year and a half of precious extra time to live with my husband and my beautiful young children. All I want is more time to live.'
Lawrence Cowan, Breast Cancer NowLawrence Cowan, Breast Cancer Now
Lawrence Cowan, Breast Cancer Now

This is the impossible ­reality for many patients living with incurable breast cancer in Scotland who still cannot routinely access life-changing drug Perjeta – words that should ring in the ears of ­everyone with the power to end this injustice.

Women with incurable HER 2-positive secondary breast cancer want more time to live. Perjeta is a drug that gives women an average of ­nearly 16 months extra life compared to the alternative treatment option.

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Yet, currently, it’s where you live in the UK that determines your access to this drug and the hope it brings. Women in England and Wales can get it on the NHS as a matter of course; in Scotland, they can’t.

We need a deal to be reached in Scotland to make this drug available at a price the NHS can afford. We need to see the drug manufacturer, Roche, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Medicines ­Consortium work together urgently to find a solution. With a deal in place in ­England and Wales we know that it’s possible to make Perjeta available in Scotland too.

Perjeta represents a step change in treatment and is the gold standard of care for ­women with HER2-positive secondary breast cancer in other parts of the UK. Its ­benefits are extraordinary.

Importantly, Perjeta’s side-effects are manageable, ­enabling many women to live a near-normal life.

It gives them back the little pleasures of ­living – a walk through the park with the dog; taking the kids to school or meeting a friend for lunch. It offers ­women the chance of more time to live, up to 16 ­precious extra months with their loved ones compared to existing treatments, making it to the next birthday, and ­seeing the kids grow up.

Perjeta is a first-line treatment given in combination with Herceptin and docetaxel. Manufactured by Roche, it’s a therapy which targets the HER2 receptors on breast cancer cells and leaves healthy cells untouched.

It’s estimated that more than 240 women in Scotland could benefit from Perjeta each year.

Yet, Perjeta has now been rejected three times in a row by the SMC. The only way that women in Scotland can access this drug is if they pay for it ­privately or appeal for NHS access on the basis that they are an exceptional case. Both options can cause significant stress and uncertainty. This is totally unacceptable.

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Women in Scotland simply shouldn’t be put in a position where they must plead with the NHS to make a special case for them or be forced to use their life savings to access the benefits this drug offers.

The fact that a deal has been reached in England and Wales proves that it is possible for this drug to be made available in Scotland at a price the NHS and taxpayer can afford.

Following repeated requests from Breast Cancer Now, talks are currently underway between Roche and the NHS to find a solution for ­Scottish patients. Getting people around the table is a positive first step, but we must ensure that these talks lead to urgent action.

Women with secondary breast cancer in Scotland don’t have time to lose and they must not be left behind.

We must end this injustice now.

Lawrence Cowan, Scotland manager for Breast Cancer Now.