Plea to cut red tape on 7p-a-day drug that could prevent cancer

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A drug costing as little as 7p per day which could prevent thousands of cases of breast cancer in the UK every year if health officials relaxed restrictions, campaigners say.

Health officials are being urged to remove NHS red tape and provide women with medication anastrozole, which they say which can prevent more than 50 per cent of cases and would prevent 4,000 cases per year.

Leading charities have led criticism of the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence (Nice), which has failed to approve its use as a preventative drug despite data which shows it works better than others currently in widespread use on the NHS.

Tamoxifen and raloxifene, which appear on Nice’s clinical guidelines, can reduce the risk of getting the disease by around 35 per cent if taken once a day for five years, whereas new research proves anastrozole can prevent as many as 53 per cent of cases when taken over the same time-frame.

The drug has been licensed for treatment for the past 30 years, but Professor Tony Howell, director of research at the Genesis breast cancer prevention charity, said that it could take Nice “years” to revisit their guidance and women will struggle to access the drug until the public body recommends it.

He said: “Nice say you can use tamoxifen and raloxifene but they haven’t said anything about anastrozole and you can imagine it will be another 200 years before they do.”

Anastrozole faces a further block from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which demands drug companies foot the bill for any costs incurred by a change in use of older drugs, such as re-labelling bottles.

“We’ve got a drug which is really good which we won’t be able to use because they haven’t passed it,” he added.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, added: “The system that we have got is geared up towards the introduction of new drugs and what we’re talking about is re-purposing drugs and there aren’t the same drivers in the system to give this new evidence the push that it needs to get into practice.”

Prof Howell and Breast Cancer Campaign are pressing for a long-term solution to improve access to drugs.

Today’s call is likely to be echoed by campaigners in Yorkshire, who made a similar plea last month when Nice rejected a drug trialed in the region which can extend the lives of patients with an advanced form of the disease was rejected because it was deemed too expensive.