Healthcare: At a Glance - Roche cancer drug data

Is this a new cancer drug?

It's a discovery about an existing drug. Trial results now suggest that Roche's oncology product Herceptin doubles the chances of survival for women in the initial stages of breast cancer - a finding described as 'stunning' by one leading specialist.

What happens at present?

Currently the drug is used to prolong survival in women with advanced breast cancer who carry a genetic flaw, which produces a protein called HER2. The new data means Herceptin could be used early with women who are HER2-positive.

So there's a lot to shout about. Who's handling PR?

Ketchum handles four oncology products for Roche, including Herceptin.

Healthcare MD Avril Lee oversees the account, which is run day-to-day by Valerie Hargreaves and Victoria West. They report to Roche products PR manager for oncology, virology and transplant Greg Page.

What coverage has the team managed so far?

A number of media reports have quoted cancer specialists calling for the drug to be fast-tracked by NICE for this new indication in the light of the trial data. The Sun called Herceptin the 'magic bullet'.

Do I hear the word 'Kylie' in all this?

It's undoubtedly true that the news of the Australian pop star's illness has stimulated interest in breast cancer and caused journalists to revisit Herceptin. But the Ketchum media relations campaign achieved coverage before Kylie's announcement was reported in the media.

What are the most important issues now?

For one, managing the expectation of patients, who will want to get their hands on the drug. There is also the problem of NICE approval for the new indication: the Roche line is that the company would not seek to rush through a new product - but this is not an untried drug and there is sufficient evidence to back up its claims. Expect figures - such as 2,800 lives a year in the UK that could be saved by targeted treatment - to be at the fore.

Further information www.rocheuk.com.

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