NHS strikes landmark deal for drug to treat two most common cancers

Hundreds of patients with breast cancer and advanced prostate cancer could benefit from a breakthrough targeted therapy, after the NHS agreed a landmark commercial deal to roll-out the drug to treat forms of the two most common cancers in England.

The drug, olaparib (Lynparza®), targets cancers with mutations in the BRCA genes, and works by stopping cancer cells from being able to repair their DNA by blocking a molecule called PARP, which causes the cancerous cells to die.

Around 550 men with advanced prostate cancer, and 300 women with HER2-negative early breast cancer who are at high risk of the disease returning, will be eligible for this new drug each year in England.

In advanced prostate cancer that has spread to another part of the body, clinical trials have shown that olaparib, taken as a tablet daily, can extend patients’ lives by an average of six months – from 12 to 18 months – allowing them more time with their friends and loved ones.

Clinical trials in BRCA-mutant, HER2-negative early breast cancer (OlympiA) showed that giving olaparib after chemotherapy reduced the relative risk of the disease returning within four years by nearly a third (invasive disease-free survival at 4 years was 82.7% in the olaparib arm, compared to 75.4% in the placebo arm).

NHS England has negotiated a commercial deal with the manufacturer, UK-based AstraZeneca, enabling the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to make a positive recommendation of the drug for treatment of BRCA-mutated breast and prostate cancers.

Now in its 75th year, the NHS continues to offer patients new treatments at the cutting-edge of medical science, including life-saving gene therapies like Libmeldy and the latest and most innovative cancer therapies.

With today’s deal, the latest struck under the current voluntary pricing and access scheme with the pharmaceutical industry, the NHS is now able to offer the treatment to more than 1,500 people each year in England in total across six different cancer indications – covering different types of breast, prostate, ovarian, fallopian tube and peritoneal cancers.

Through funding from the Cancer Drugs Fund, the NHS will offer olaparib for the two new breast and prostate cancer indications straight away.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “Olaparib could have a huge impact on patients with a range of cancer types, giving many a better chance of survival while offering those with advanced forms of the disease precious extra months to live.

“Reaching this landmark deal is not only incredible news for patients and their families but is another example of the NHS using its commercial capabilities that is good value for taxpayers and will help us to continue to transform cancer care across the country”.

Professor Peter Johnson, National Clinical Director for Cancer, said: “This is an important development for hundreds with early breast cancer or advanced prostate cancer that has progressed after other types of treatment, offering both sets of patients a vital new option to treat their cancer.

“The NHS is committed to delivering the best for its patients and this latest deal for a cutting-edge cancer treatment showcases the power of the NHS to agree deals for the latest medicines and treatments at affordable prices for taxpayers”.

Joannah Kelly, 44, from South Croydon, is married with two children and was diagnosed with primary breast cancer in December 2020, 9 days before the birth of her second child.

Joannah’s primary treatment lasted ten months and included chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and radiotherapy. Joannah received olaparib for a year, from November 2021 until October 2022, to help reduce her risk of recurrence after treatment for primary breast cancer.

Joannah said: “I’m elated that olaparib has now been approved for routine use on the NHS. I am a BRCA2 carrier and have been very fortunate to have been receiving olaparib, sponsored by my workplace health insurer. For women like me, this ground-breaking drug has the potential to reduce the risk of cancer returning or progressing to incurable secondary breast cancer, and ultimately reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer”.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “It’s fantastic news that olaparib, which is a ground-breaking and potentially life-saving treatment for certain people with primary breast cancer, has now been approved for use on the NHS.

“Around 5-10% of women with breast cancer carry an inherited altered gene of which the BRCA 1 and 2 genes are the most common. Sadly, some people with high-risk, HER2 negative primary breast cancer with an altered BRCA gene – often known as the ’Jolie gene’ – may see their cancer return following treatment.

“Crucially, olaparib can reduce the risk of people’s cancer returning or progressing to incurable secondary breast cancer and stop people dying from this devastating disease”.

Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases of breast cancer, with the disease claiming the lives of around 1,500 women.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and around 52,00 people are diagnosed with it every single year in England. More than 12,000 die each year.

Kevin Webber was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2014. At the time he was told he had he had just 2 years to live, but thanks in part to newer treatments like abiraterone, he has far exceeded his prognosis. Since then, he has inspired thousands of others to ‘make the most of it’ and raised more than £1m for the charity – and unprecedented awareness – through a series of massive endurance events, including the epic Marathon Des Sables four times.

Kevin said: “Being told you have advanced cancer is incredibly tough, because it means your cancer can’t be cured.

“What’s different now is that there are so many more treatments for men like me than there ever used to be, which can help us live longer than ever and keep doing the things we love. Because of that, I’ve been given so much extra time to spend with my family and friends, to take part in these incredible challenges and to truly make the most of every single day.

“That’s why it’s fantastic to see new treatments like olaparib being approved, and we need to keep them coming to help men like me and their families who are going through such tough times”.

Chiara De Biase, Director of Support and Influencing at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Not only is this fantastic news for men with advanced prostate cancer, but it is also a landmark moment for prostate cancer treatment.

“This is the first targeted treatment of its kind to be approved for the disease and it finally moves us away from the old ‘one size fits all’ approach to prostate cancer treatment. We’re proud of the role we played in developing this exciting drug, which stands to extend the lives of hundreds of men each year”.

Health Minister Helen Whately said: “For hundreds of people with cancer and their families, today offers the hope of more precious time with loved ones.

“We are committed to providing world-class cancer care to patients and are always working together with clinicians to find new, cutting-edge treatments.

“Cutting waiting lists is one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities and we are driving forward progress with new one-stop shops that offer a range of checks, tests and scans closer to home, meaning patients are receiving the cancer treatment they need as soon as possible.”

David Brocklehurst, Head of Oncology, AstraZeneca UK, said: “We know how devastating a diagnosis of either of these hard-to-treat, aggressive cancers can be, for patients and their loved ones. Until now, treatment options for cancers resulting from BRCA mutations have been extremely limited.

“The availability of olaparib, a treatment discovered and developed in the UK, makes us extremely proud. Treatment innovations such as these underscore our bold long-term ambition to eliminate cancer as a cause of death”.