U.K. to test drug challenging breast cancer

Britain will test women with early stage breast cancer for the suitability of treatment with Herceptin, a promising drug which is not yet licensed for the ailment, the Department of Health said Wednesday.

The drug's manufacturer hopes to gain a European license by the middle of next year.

The announcement came two days after a British woman, Sarah Clark, won a legal battle to get treatment with the drug.

Herceptin will be made available for women with early stage breast cancer as soon as it receives a European license, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said.

The manufacturer, Roche, has said it will file an application with the European Medicines Agency in February, but would not expect favorable action before July.

The tests Hewitt authorized are to determine whether a patient's breast cancer has a specific receptor, the HER2 receptor, on the surface of the cancer cells. Some 35,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, of whom about 5,000 might benefit from Herceptin, the Department of Health said. It estimated the drug could save about 1,000 lives a year, at a cost of about 100 million pounds (120 million; US$175 million). Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is already assessing the safety of Herceptin for early stage breast cancer. That means the drug could be recommended for use throughout the National Health Service shortly after a license is granted, reports the AP. I.L.

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