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Suffolk: Cancer survivor slams NICE after it claims life-extending drug is ‘too expensive’

12:00 23 April 2014

Cancer survivor Jo Whitelaw

Cancer survivor Jo Whitelaw

A breast cancer survivor has hit out at plans to block a new drug, which extends cancer patients’ lives by almost six months, from NHS access.


Mother-of-two Jo Whitelaw, from Great Blakenham, was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in February 2012, 
underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and Herceptin medication and has just had the two year all-clear.

The 51-year-old has slammed draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) stating Kadcyla, which is manufactured by Roche and can cost more than £90,000 per patient, is not effective enough to justify the price the NHS is being asked to pay.

It means if the decision is made final, patients would have to apply to the NHS and the Cancer Drugs Fund for the drug.

Mrs Whitelaw said: “It infuriates me that the big people at the top can go along saying the drug can’t be rolled out on the NHS because it’s too expensive but if someone in their family was diagnosed with breast cancer they would soon change their mind.

“You can’t put a price on life. For somebody to say your life is not worth the cost of the drug is absolutely disgraceful.

“I can’t imagine what breast cancer patients are going through and words can’t describe how angry I feel on their behalf.

“I have seen people sitting in the waiting room and the anxiety on their faces is beyond words.”

Professor Paul Ellis, a consultant oncologist at King’s College, and lead triallist for the drug in the UK, said: “Kadcyla represents a significant advance in HER2-positive breast cancer, so for Nice to issue negative preliminary guidance is a huge blow.

“The drug tackles the disease in a different way to any other breast cancer medicine and provides women with valuable extra time with their families and loved ones – time that you cannot put a price on.”

The drug is currently given to patients who have failed on conventional treatment with Herceptin and chemotherapy.

It is only suitable for patients with the defective Her2 gene and trial results have showed it can extend life by six months.

Sir Andrew Dillon, Nice chief executive, said: “We had hoped Roche would have recognised the challenge the NHS faces in managing the adoption of expensive new treatments by reducing the cost of Kadcyla to the NHS.

“The drug is already being funded through the special Cancer Drugs Fund. Our job is to recommend whether it should transfer into the NHS budget.

“We are very aware of the importance that people place on life-extending cancer drugs and a decision not to recommend a cancer treatment for routine NHS funding is never taken lightly.”

Jayson Dallas, general manager, Roche Products Limited, said: “Roche is extremely disappointed that Nice has failed to safeguard the interests of patients with this advanced stage of aggressive disease.”

A spokesman added Roche would be working with Nice as part of the consultation period before a final decision is made.



  • This is why your Government needs major stakes in the worlds pharmaceutical companies rather than the banks... but then again, financial crimes always have a longer custodial sentence than crimes committed against the person. Money still seems more important than lives. You can understand why people are angry at them refusing to stock the drug on cost grounds - bare in mind its not £90k per person, or nothing - those with HER2 would be given an alternative combination of medicine that I would expect to cost over half of that.... the difference is this more expensive drug is more effective and can extend lives by up to 6 months... oh and then there is the useless stockpile the Government blown taxpayers money on that wouldn't have helped against an epidemic... I am sure that would have made up the shortfall between medicine costs.

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    Ipswich Entrepreneur

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

  • Unfortunate that some people don't understand the concept of NICE looking at affordability. If it improved quality of life substantially enough then £90k year-1 would probably be okay. It's guidance is there to protect the patients so that they are not sold promises at a high price which will not deliver. It's there to make companies such as Roche rethink their pricing so that they can sell their product to the NHS, otherwise a drugs company could just charge whatever

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    daniel ......

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

  • We do have a lot of money in the NHS pot but a lot of it is going to people who have never contributed to the system and those from abroad who are milking it.

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    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

  • I'm sure anyone in this position would want to take any option available. But this country cannot afford to spend this amount of money to delay the inevitable by 6 months. If it was a cure then that would be completely different. How many hip replacements, dialysis machines or A&E nurses would these treaments provide - making long term health benefits to more people.

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    John Felton

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

  • It's wrong to characterise this as a "life-saving" drug as a lot of the media are doing. All it does is extend life by a short time. While that's undoubtedly a boon for those receiving it, NICE has to make an assessment on the basis of the amount (and quality) of life any particular drug will give, against its cost. If we had an infinite amount of money for the NHS this wouldn't be a problem, but in the real world, unfortunately cost-benefit analyses have to be done. I'm sure if this drug actually *CURED* sufferers' cancers, or even provided a significant extension of good-quality life, the decision would have been different.

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    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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