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Breast cancer hope runs high

The diagnosis that a woman has breast cancer is given by doctors more than 40,000 times a year. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in females and kills around 13,000 women in Britain each year.

The diagnosis that a woman has breast cancer is given by doctors more than 40,000 times a year. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in females and kills around 13,000 women in Britain each year. Yet in spite of this disquieting scenario, patients now have more hope than they ever had of receiving an effective drug to treat their disease and there are more new medicines now than ever before in development for treating breast cancer.

According to a new report published by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Target Breast Cancer, the range of clinical options for patients has never been wider and the five-year survival rate is continuing to increase steadily.

ìTackling cancer is one of the top priorities of health administrations throughout the world, [and] steps are being made in the treatment of this life-threatening condition,î said Dr Richard Barker, director general of the ABPI. ìIn the UK alone, the pharmaceutical industry invests some £9m every day in the search for new medicines, and cancer has long been one of our key targets.î

There are almost 400 experimental compounds worldwide in development for cancer - products that may become the breakthrough life-savers of the future. The ABPI's report, written by Dr Mike Hall, makes it clear that there is still `a mountain ahead that has to be climbed', however as knowledge has improved as to how cell growth is regulated and cell death is programmed, it has enabled scientists to create entirely new strategies for treatment and care of breast cancer patients.

Cash barrier

However, new medicines will only benefit patients if they are distributed and made available widely, the report states. ìPatients will only see the benefits if uptake of these new medicines by the NHS is strong and consistent,î Dr Barker noted.

The cost to the NHS of treating all cancers is estimate to be in excess of £2bn a year. Yet, hospital costs account for 86 per cent of this total, whereas medicines and dispensing takes just 12 per cent of the money.

The latest drugs for treating breast cancer are used inconsistently across Europe, with Herceptin, made by Roche and Genentech, being used twice as much in Germany as in the UK, which also lags behind France, Spain and Italy in the uptake of new medicines.

The market for breast cancer drug Herceptin, which amassed sales of $483m in 2004, could expand by some $250m a year if it gets approved for treating early stage disease, according to SG Cowen. Roche and Genentech unveiled data at the recent ASCO (Association of Clinical Oncologists) meeting in the US, showing that when combined with standard chemotherapy treatment in early stage breast cancer patients, Herceptin reduced the risk of disease relapse inside four years by 52 per cent, compared with chemotherapy alone.

30th September 2008

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