Former nurse Barbara Clark has won her fight for access to Swiss drugmaker Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) on prescription by the UK’s National Health Service, after being told earlier this year that she couldn't be treated with this drug as her illness was not at the terminal stage.

According to BBC News Online, after "looking very carefully at her circumstances," Somerset Coast Primary Care Trust has decided to treat Ms Clark with Herceptin, who was facing costs of around £40,000 for private treatment with the drug.

Currently, the agent is only prescribed on the NHS to women with advanced-stage breast cancer, despite a growing body of sound clinical evidence showing that early administration of the agent dramatically decreases the chances of disease recurrence while significantly increasing life span.

Most recently, a large-scale Phase III study of Herceptin (trastuzumab) in early-stage breast cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease, demonstrated that adding the agent to chemotherapy significantly cuts the risk of cancer recurrence versus chemotherapy alone, by as much as 51% [[14/09/05d]].

"There is clear evidence that Herceptin has the potential to make a huge difference to as many as 10,000 women in the UK every year following a diagnosis of breast cancer for the first time," claims Clara MacKay, director of policy and research at Breast Cancer Care. She also stated that the ruling is “a tremendous win for Barbara Clark and a real sign that PCTs are listening to patients.”

The ruling, which was welcomed by cancer charities, could prevent NHS trusts from issuing a standard ‘no’ to all early-stage breast cancer sufferers without considering individual circumstances first, until the product gains clearance for this additional indication.

The European Medicines Agency has not been able to approve Herceptin for the treatment of early-stage breast cancer as the relevant application has not yet been filed by Roche. However, earlier this year, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt ordered the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which decides on the use of medicines within the NHS, to speed up its assessment of Herceptin [[22/07/05d]], and Roche is reportedly preparing a submission for early next year.