Breakthrough drugs approved for advanced breast cancer

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved a new class of breast cancer treatment for NHS use, bringing new hope for women diagnosed with advanced disease

Palbociclib and ribociclib are two new drugs that are designed to home in on specific faults in cancer cells. They were developed with the help of researchers at the ICR and The Royal Marsden.

Women with oestrogen- receptor-positive breast cancer who were diagnosed after the disease had started to spread will be eligible to receive palbociclib. And women who meet these criteria, and who have gone through the menopause, will be eligible for ribociclib. Both drugs will be prescribed alongside an aromatase inhibitor, a type of hormone therapy that blocks oestrogen production.

"In trials, these two drugs have made a huge difference to women’s lives"

The ICR and The Royal Marsden led the PALOMA-3 trial of palbociclib in women with advanced breast cancer, in collaboration with colleagues from 144 international research centres in 17 countries.

The trial found that the drug in combination with fulvestrant – a hormone therapy that prevents cancer cells from binding to oestrogen – stopped the cancer progressing for an average of 9.2 months, compared with 3.8 months with fulvestrant alone.

Professor Nicholas Turner, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the ICR and Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden, led the trial and participated on the NICE panels for both drugs. He said: “The development of this brand-new class of cancer drug is one of the most important breakthroughs for women with advanced breast cancer in the past two decades.

In clinical trials, we see that palbociclib and ribociclib make a huge difference to women’s lives – slowing down their tumour growth for nearly a year and delaying the need for chemotherapy, with all its potentially debilitating side effects. These drugs are allowing women to live more normal lives for longer.”