Data showing that Roche and Genentech’s breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) can cut the risk of disease recurrence by 50% in women with early-stage disease are likely to increase pressure on the UK Department of Health to broaden the availability of the drug.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (October 20 issue) and first unveiled at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting earlier this year [[19/04/05e]], show that after two years’ treatment with the antibody, the risk of recurrence dropped by 52% while mortality was cut by a third.

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has been ordered by Secretary of State for Health Patricia Hewitt to fast-track the appraisal in order to make Herceptin available for these women as quickly as possible [[22/07/05d]], although this process cannot start until approval of the drug in this indication. Roche is not due to file for clearance in this use until next year [[14/09/05d]].

The DH has also said it will offer patients newly diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer testing to see if they are eligible for treatment with the drug [[06/10/05a]].