AstraZeneca’s Arimidex is a cost-effective therapy for the treatment of breast cancer when compared with the gold standard tamoxifen, a study published in the British Journal of Cancer has found.

Hormonal breast cancer therapy costs the National Health Service an estimated £64.6 million a year, but this isn’t an accurate picture of the total financial burden of the disease, because it doesn’t take into account the cost of recurrence, according to the study. Recurrence can significantly swell the overall expense of therapy, with diagnosis, clinic appointments, inpatient and outpatient care, the need for additional surgery/chemotherapy/radiotherapy and follow-up investigations potentially racking up a hefty bill.

“Recurrence is the single most important factor which increases total cost of breast cancer therapy. Therefore, reducing recurrence would have the largest influence on breast cancer spending,” explained Professor Robert Mansel, from the University of Wales College of Medicine.

Importantly, the ATAC study found that Arimidex (anastrozole) is better than tamoxifen in cutting the risk of recurrence and improved tolerability. Moreover, headline results claim that: treating patients with Arimidex lead to a gain in 0.244 QALYs (Quality Adjusted Life Years) at an additional cost of £4,315 per patient; the estimated incremental cost-effectiveness of Arimidex compared to tamoxifen was £17,656 per QALY gained; and the incremental cost per life year gained was £18,702, which falls under NICE's threshold of £20,000 to £30,000 per QALY.

Reduce the economic burden

“This model demonstrates that by prescribing a more effective treatment that reduces the risk of recurrence compared to tamoxifen, you can potentially reduce the overall economic burden on the healthcare system of treating breast cancer in this setting,” Prof Mansel said.

“Results from ATAC showed that anastrozole offers post-menopausal women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer a greater chance of preventing recurrence. We have now provided evidence that this effective, well-tolerated treatment is also cost-effective which should be reassuring to budget-holders (or primary care trusts), doctors and women alike,” added Professor Lesley Fallowfield, Psychosocial Oncologist, Cancer Research, UK.

Anastrozole has an annual acquisition cost of £894.25 and is the least expensive aromtase inhibitor available - costing 17% less than letrozole and exemestane, according to AstraZeneca. In comparison, the annual cost of Roche’s Herceptin (trastuzumab) and taxanes, such as paclitaxel, are significantly higher, it said.