February 15, 2006

UK cancer sufferer to appeal in Herceptin case

LONDON (Reuters) - A British woman with early-stage breast
cancer lost a test case legal bid on Wednesday to force her
health authority to pay for the potentially life-saving drug
Herceptin, but vowed on Wednesday to continue her battle.

High Court judge Justice Bean ruled that Swindon Primary
Care Trust in Wiltshire, which had refused Ann Marie Rogers,
54, the costly drug treatment, need not pay for Herceptin, made
by Switzerland's Roche.

Summarising his decision, the judge said that while some
primary care trusts do fund Herceptin for early-stage breast
cancer sufferers, that was not Swindon's policy, other than in
exceptional cases.

"The court's task is not to say which policy is better but
to decide whether Swindon's policy is arbitrary or irrational
and thus unlawful," said Justice Bean.

"I find that Swindon's policy is not unlawful, whether in
English domestic law or under the jurisprudence of the European
Court of Human Rights.

"Accordingly, despite my sympathy with Ms Rogers' plight, I
must dismiss the claim," he said.

But Rogers, a mother of three, expressed her anger at the
ruling and said she would continue to fight to receive the drug
free of charge.

"Ann Marie Rogers is devastated at the outcome of this
judicial review but is determined to take her fight for this
drug to the Court of Appeal," her lawyer Yogi Amin told
reporters outside court.

"Ann Marie has an aggressive form of breast cancer and has
been let down by her health authority. Access to life-saving
cancer treatment depends on where you live in England and
Wales," he added.

"A clear direction of the availability of Herceptin for
early-stage breast cancer sufferers is now needed."

It was the first case over Herceptin to reach the High
Court and could set a precedent for patients seeking access to
the drug on the National Health Service.

At an earlier hearing, the judge was told that Rogers felt
as though she had been given "a death sentence" as a result of
having been initially refused the drug, which costs about
20,000 pounds ($35,000) a year.

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

Research has shown Herceptin can help patients in the early
stages of breast cancer but many health authorities say they
will only fund treatment in exceptional cases.

Rogers has been receiving the drug since last year when
another High Court judge held she had an "arguable case."

He gave the go-ahead for this month's challenge to the
Trust's stance and ordered that it should provide the drug for
Rogers pending the hearing.