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A breast cancer cure -- for the rich

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 1st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

According to a final analysis of the Phase III HERA trial, pharmaceutical company Roche and the Breast International Group, patients in early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer should remain on Herceptin treatment for one year, and not two years or six months. The drug has been found to be tremendously beneficial - but at a very high cost, that puts it out of reach for many.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A breast cancer blockbuster medication, Herceptin had sales last year of $5.5 billion. Approximately one quarter of patients with breast cancer tumors which generate HER2, a protein which makes the disease much more aggressive and are treated with Herceptin.

The latest data from the Phase III HERA trial demonstrated that two years of treatment on Herceptin made no difference to patients' disease-free survival times, which is how long women recovered without the cancer being regenerated.

Followed up for an average of eight years, the trial showed that disease-free survival improvements and overall survival for those on Herceptin was statistically significant than those without. Roche added that "there were no safety findings in the trial."

"Herceptin has changed the lives of many people with HER2-positive early breast cancer by increasing their chance of cure. HERA is one of the largest and longest-running breast cancer trials and demonstrates our commitment to people with this aggressive disease," Hal Barron, M.D., Roche's Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product Development, said.

"These results answer an important question and support current medical practice, where Herceptin treatment for one year is recommended and approved for people with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer."

Dr. Martine Piccart, Chair of Breast International Group, added "It's essential that our clinical trials help us understand just how long patients need to receive a particular treatment. These results give us both the evidence and the reassurance that it's not necessary to give patients with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer Herceptin for more than one year."

A full one-year course of Herceptin treatment costs a whopping $70,000. According to various media sources, Genentech has never explained why the drug is so expensive.

Australia has managed to knock the price down to $50,000. Several countries with universal health care, including the U.K., have had problems regarding price and including full Herceptin usage for breast cancer patients. In the U.K., the National Health Service pays for cancer medication -- patients get them free if they have been approved for payment by NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. If not, the patient has to pay.

Cancer patients and advocacy groups from Ontario, Canada, eventually managed, after going to the highest levels in the courts, to get the Ontario Ministry of Health in July 2005 to agree to pay for Herceptin treatment.

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