February 6, 2006

UK breast cancer sufferer goes to court for drug

LONDON (Reuters) - A woman with early-stage breast cancer
went to the High Court on Monday in an attempt to force her
local health authority to pay for the potentially life-saving
drug Herceptin.

Ann Marie Rogers, 54, was refused the drug after Swindon
Primary Care Trust in Wiltshire said it would not fund the
treatment, which costs around 20,000 pounds ($36,000) a year.

Her counsel Ian Wise told the court the refusal had left
Rogers feeling she had been given a "death sentence" and that
she felt as if she were "sitting on Death Row."

Her challenge is the first over Herceptin treatment to
reach the High Court and could set a precedent for patients
seeking access to the drug and other expensive treatments not
normally available on the National Health Service.

The case will resonate with governments around the world,
who increasingly have to weigh up the benefits of modern
medicines against their price.

Wise argued that the Trust's refusal to fund Rogers'
treatment was "arbitrary and unlawful" and infringed her human

Rogers has been receiving the drug from the Trust at the
order of the court pending the outcome of her legal challenge.

Herceptin, made by Switzerland's Roche, is one of a new
generation of targeted therapies which attack only cancer cells
and are tolerated much better than traditional chemotherapy.

The drug is currently only licensed for use in women with
advanced breast cancer, although doctors can use their
discretion to prescribe it in other cases.

Recent research has shown Herceptin can help patients with
early stages of breast cancer, but many local health
authorities will only fund treatment in exceptional

Rogers' solicitor, Yogi Amin, said her consultant had
concluded she would benefit from the drug but the Trust would
not pay for treatment as she was not an exceptional case.

Last year, two other early-stage breast cancer sufferers
threatened to go to court over access to Herceptin, before
their local health authorities backed down.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has ordered Britain's
drugs watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical
Excellence (NICE), to speed up its assessment of wider use of
the drug.

Roche said on Monday it would submit to NICE this week a
submission about Herceptin treatment for early-stage breast
cancer patients.

However, it said a timely NICE review was dependent on a
license being granted first by the European Union's European
Medicines Evaluation Agency.

Rogers' case will last about two days, with judgment
expected to be reserved before a written decision at a later

(additional reporting by Ben Hirschler)