Taking action to overcome breast cancer

To mark the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, guest blogger Katherine Woods, Senior Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign tells us more about their research recently published in Breast Cancer Research and the Off-patent Drugs Bill which they are now collaborating on.

img800-facebook-post-unlock-drugsBreast Cancer Awareness Month (or ‘BCAM’ to those of us at Breast Cancer Campaign who refer to it on a daily basis, all year round) is unsurprisingly our busiest and most exciting time of year.

In October 2013, with the dedicated hard work of over 100 international experts, we published our second ‘gap analysis’ paper in Breast Cancer Research, which highlighted the gaps in our knowledge which – if filled – would bring the biggest benefit to people affected by breast cancer. In addition we launched Help us find the cures, our action plan which set out what we are committed to do and what we need others to do in order to overcome breast cancer by 2050.

We know that in the UK and across the world, breast cancer cases are rising and are projected to do so until at least 2030. With this comes the immense human and economic impact of the disease, and the understanding that the best weapon in overcoming breast cancer is the ability to stop it occurring in the first place.

Risk and the prevention of breast cancer is therefore critical to us at Campaign, which is why we were so keen to invite our panel of experts to undertake a further gap analysis dedicated to the area. On the eve of Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2014, Risk determination and prevention of breast cancer was published in Breast Cancer Research, highlighting the key gaps in our knowledge and recommending action that will allow more breast cancers to be prevented using some of the effective methods we already have.

To further accelerate progress in this area, Campaign has also recently invested around £1million in new research to explore how monitoring a woman’s breast density can help determine if she will benefit from chemoprevention treatment, in addition to testing a new type of chemoprevention drug. You can read more about these pioneering projects on our website.

But alongside all of our research funding, from prevention to the psychosocial impact of living with and beyond breast cancer, we know that it’s just as important to look beyond the research landscape to make sure progress is translated into patient benefit as quickly and effectively as possible.

This year’s gap analysis, focussing on breast cancer risk and prevention, highlighted that all of the treatments currently recommended to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women at increased risk of the disease (tamoxifen and raloxifene in the UK, and including exemestane and anastrozole in the US), and a number of those currently under investigation, are old drugs that have been used for many years in other indications, including the treatment of breast cancer.

Whilst this means that they are available at low cost because their patents have now expired, it also means that no single pharmaceutical company is likely to take ownership of licensing and ensuring adoption of the drug in its new indication. This means that they are not made routinely available to patients for new purposes, even when they are low-cost and clinically-proven.

This issue was originally raised with us by clinicians working in the field of cancer prevention. Now Breast Cancer Campaign is working closely with Jonathan Evans MP on a Bill he has introduced to change the law – the Off-patent Drugs Bill. This would address the problem of ensuring routine access to off-patent drugs in new indications by introducing a new advocate into the existing UK licensing system that could take on the role of seeking a licence where no organisation has taken on the task of doing so.

We really believe this is a one-off opportunity to change the law to ensure that pioneering clinical research does not hit a dead-end once clinical efficacy is established; that low-cost, safe and effective treatments make the final step into clinical practice for the thousands of patients who could benefit each year.

The Off-patent Drugs Bill will receive its second reading in Parliament on November 7th but without enough support from MPs it will not be able to progress to the next stage. Without support from the government it will not become law. You can find out more and show your support for the Bill here.

Breast Cancer Campaign funds innovative breast cancer research, bringing together the brightest minds to share knowledge and produce better, quicker results to overcome and outlive breast cancer. Visit www.breastcancercampaign.org to find out more.

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