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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK


'NHS should embrace cancer drug'

The drug advances treatment and prevention of breast cancer

The government should consider making a breast cancer drug that has shown potential to cure and prevent the disease widely available on the NHS, a cancer charity has said.

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, has called on Health Secretary Frank Dobson to refer Zoladex to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The new NHS
NICE was launched in April to rule on which drugs should be available on the NHS.

Its decisions are supposed to be based on clinical evidence and considerations of cost effectiveness, but, as it has yet to make a ruling, the system remains untested.

Professor McVie has called on NICE to ignore the potential cost of the drug when it makes any ruling.

Promising treatment

BBC Health Correspondent Richard Hannaford: "This drug shows hopeful signs"
Zoladex - or goserelin - reduces levels of the sex hormone oestrogen. Early studies suggest it could provide a relatively side-effect free alternative to chemotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer.

Three research teams reported on Monday that in trials involving 2,631 women, Zoladex used by itself or in combination with another drug called Tamoxifen could improve survival rates.

In one trial the combination was clearly more effective than chemotherapy at preventing recurrence of the cancer.

The findings applied to up to 60% of young women who had breast cancer but had not started the menopause.

At the moment, Zoladex is only available to women in the advanced stages of cancer for whom all other treatments have failed.

But Professor McVie said the new research could offer hope to many more women.

He said: "I would like to see this drug made available quickly and the best way to do that is for it to be referred to NICE."

'Ideal for NICE'

The drug was a "perfect case" for the body, he said.

[ image: Professor Gordon McVie: Treatment is a
Professor Gordon McVie: Treatment is a "perfect case" for NICE
"NICE should rule on whether these trials prove the clinical effectiveness of the drug among young women, and once it has ruled it should be made available quickly," he said.

"Cost should not come in to a matter like this, when we are talking about saving the lives of young women with breast cancer."

The Department of Health expects Mr Dobson to make his first referral to NICE in the next few weeks.

A spokeswoman said: "This does seem to be the type of treatment that NICE was set up to deal with."

Early days

But another cancer charity warned that the public should not get too excited about the early results from the Zoladex research projects.

A spokeswoman for Breast Cancer Care said: "This drug could be a major breakthrough, but it is important to note that as yet it is unlicensed and only available for women on trials or with secondary breast cancer.

"Further studies are needed before it becomes available to all women.

"Whenever stories like this emerge, we have a flood of women calling our helpline asking where they can get the new treatment.

"We don't want to raise hopes and expectations before the drug has been fully tested or is widely available."

Zeneca, the company that makes the drug, is awaiting the results of another trial. It plans to apply for a licence for the drug to be used in early breast cancer next year.

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