At a glance: Scottish approval for Novartis cancer drug

Is this an SMC decision? The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), the country’s equivalent of NICE, has advised the NHS in Scotland that it can prescribe Novartis’ Femara for adjuvant use in postmenopausal women with early breast cancer.

What’s ‘adjuvant use’?
Adjuvant therapy is given post-surgery, where there is risk of recurrence. Trials show Femara has been successful in preventing recurrence of breast cancer after the patient has undergone an operation to combat the condition.
This appears to be a key selling point…

Indeed. Femara is an aromatase inhibitor, which blocks the production of oestrogen, which can be a prime element in the development of breast cancer. The main drug used is long-standing generic tamoxifen.

Who handles PR for Femara?
Novartis’ UK head of comms is Jason Browning, while Fiona Turner is head of PR. They have agency help from Ruder Finn, which has the UK and global account for oncology. The agency’s UK head of healthcare, Pat Pearson, oversees the account.

Does the decision mean more pressure on NICE?
In that patient groups including Breast Cancer Care have welcomed the news from north of the border, yes. But NICE is unlikely to make up its mind on similar guidance for England and Wales until the end of the year.

Is this ‘another Herceptin’?
They are different breast cancer drugs, but the idea that you will get potentially life-saving treatment based on where you live is powerful. There have been several much-publicised court cases in the past year over women’s (and in one case, a man’s) right to receive Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin on the NHS. The SMC decision will do nothing to lower the profile of Femara.

What are other indications for Femara?
It is licensed for breast cancer sufferers who have taken tamoxifen for five years. Up to two years ago, the risks outweighed the benefits, so nothing else was offered. But since then, post-menopausal patients have been able to take Femara for another three years.

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