The big medical news of last month was the green-lighting by the NHS of two new drugs designed to treat advanced breast cancer, meaning that approximately 8,000 sufferers in the UK will be given an extra edge in their fight against the disease. After negotiating prices for the treatments – after feeling the initial pricings were too high – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) finally approved the use of palbociclib and ribociclib. But what are they?
Otherwise known as Ibrance, palbociclib is a first-line treatment for sufferers of oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer, which has been medically proven to slow down the progression of cancer by inhibiting two proteins – CDK 4 and 6.
They’re designed to be taken alongside an aromatase inhibitor, a hormone therapy which blocks the production of oestrogen, in order to stop certain breast cancers from developing.
It is estimated that palbociclib treatment can delay the progression of breast cancer by up to 10 months, allowing patients to continue day-to-day activities without the condition worsening. One cycle of palbociclib – a pack of 21 capsules, one taken daily – will cost the NHS £2,950.
Otherwise known as Kisqai, ribociclib works along the same lines as palbociclib – but is recommended for women who have gone through the menopause. It can be used in collaboration with letrozole, anastrosole or exemestane, giving oncologists a wider choice in selecting the therapy most suitable for a particular patient. Ribociclib is also a lot cheaper than palbociclib – that same £2,950 will buy the NHS 63 tablets.
Are there any side effects to these cancer drugs?
Women who were involved in the trail for both medications have reported that – bar slight fatigue – palbociclib and ribociclib are both very manageable treatments, allowing them to live as high a quality of life as possible. And the British medical community are very keen to see both treatments rolled out.
“(Palbociclib and Ribociclib) are one of the most important breakthroughs for women with advanced breast cancer in the last two decades,” claimed Nicholas Turner, professor of molecular oncology at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden, who led the clinical trials for the drugs.”
Professor Carole Longson, the director of the centre for health technology evaluation at NICE, was similarly impressed. “The committee heard that by postponing disease progression, palbociclib and ribociclib may reduce the number of people who are exposed to the often unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy, and delay the need for its use in others. We are pleased therefore that the companies have been able to agree reductions to the price of palbociclib and ribociclib to allow them to be made routinely available to people with this type of breast cancer.”
The final word goes to Professor Turner: “Palbociclib and ribociclib have made a huge difference to women’s lives – slowing down tumour growth for nearly a year, and delaying the need for chemotherapy with all its potentially debilitating side-effects. These drugs have allowed women to live a normal life for longer.”