COVID-19 must not be an excuse to scupper plans for early access to cancer drugs - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

COVID-19 must not be an excuse to scupper plans for early access to cancer drugs

The COVID-19 situation has already caused unacceptable delays to breast cancer diagnoses with more than 400 cases gone undetected during lockdown. COVID-19 must not also be an excuse for the Government to break its promise to develop an early access programme for new cancer medicines – this warning comes from Breast Cancer Foundation NZ today, following two promising clinical trials results for advanced breast cancer (ABC) recently announced.

The latest results of the HER2CLIMB clinical trial showed new drug tucatinib resulted in 70% one-year survival for people with HER2+ advanced breast cancer that has spread to the brain, compared with 47% for patients taking a placebo. The results, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference on 31 May and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, also showed 33% progression-free survival at one year for patients taking tucatinib with existing drugs Herceptin and capecitabine, compared to 12% for patients taking a placebo with the existing drugs. Overall survival across all patients at two years was 45% with tucatinib and 29% with placebo.

Meanwhile, final analysis of the phase 2 LOTUS trial showed advanced triple-negative breast cancer patients receiving ipatasertib with paclitaxel had a median overall survival of 25.8 months, compared to 16.9 months in the placebo group – an improvement of nine months. This was presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Breast Cancer Virtual Meeting on 23 May, and clinical trials are soon to start in New Zealand.

Evangelia Henderson, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, said: “These encouraging results remind us that New Zealand is still waiting for an early access programme for cancer drugs, to make sure Kiwi women benefit from the latest research as early as possible.

“The Government recognised NZ is lagging behind when it made a commitment to develop an early access programme in its Cancer Action Plan. The situation with COVID-19 has clearly caused great disruption, but this can’t be an excuse to push this important commitment to the back of the queue.

“It’s devastating enough to be told you have breast cancer, so to also be told you can’t have the best available treatment because it costs too much is gut-wrenching. Each year we lose more than 650 women in NZ to breast cancer, yet there’s so much we can do to prevent this. Funding an early access programme would certainly result in fewer deaths, so we need to see action on this now.”

Breast Cancer Foundation NZ earlier warned hundreds of breast cancer cases had gone undetected during the Level 3 and 4 lockdown. This was reaffirmed by a report from the Cancer Control Agency last month showing breast cancer diagnoses were down 62% in April compared to the previous year.