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Intervention in the Debate on Breast Cancer Drugs

Mike Kane MP: 

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) on securing this debate. She made an extraordinarily powerful and emotive speech. I join her in wishing everybody who is here today in the Public Gallery and everybody who is watching this debate at home all the very best for the future. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who made a very powerful speech citing the personal testimony of his constituent, whose case he argued eloquently. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) spoke eloquently about his grandmother being his inspiration for going into politics, and her dying of the disease. We come into politics for many different reasons, the profession of public pain being one. Nye Bevan did not create the NHS in 1948; he created it much earlier when his father died of pneumoconiosis in his arms before the time of the NHS. I hope that I can pronounce the drugs that I am going to mention just as well as the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) did.

We have heard lots of statistics today. Stats, in themselves, are shocking, and it is also important to remind ourselves that behind every statistic there is a human story. The lives of women, all too often young women and mothers, are being cut cruelly short. We have heard many important interventions about access to breast cancer drugs for treatment of secondary breast cancer. At the heart of the motion is also the issue of how we can improve access to innovative new breast cancer drugs and off-patent drugs used for breast cancer. The use of such drugs relates not only to the treatment of breast cancer but to its prevention. I am immensely proud of the fact that my constituency is home to the Nightingale centre— ​Europe’s first breast cancer prevention centre—and the charity Prevent Breast Cancer. I am a Mancunian MP, so my constituency also benefits from close proximity to the Christie hospital, the largest single-site cancer centre in Europe, treating more than 44,000 patients a year.

The Nightingale centre opened at University Hospital of South Manchester—Wythenshawe hospital—in July 2007. It offers state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment services to women and men with breast cancer and co-ordinates the NHS breast screening programme for the entire Greater Manchester area. It also provides training facilities aimed at addressing the shortage of breast cancer specialists, and it houses many of the Prevent Breast Cancer researchers who are looking at ways to predict and prevent breast cancer.

In the Prevent Breast Cancer research unit, several drugs that are now out of patent are being repurposed for preventing cancer from coming back. Women with a family history or other factors that make them high risk are known to benefit from these drugs, which prevent the disease. But women in that position find it difficult to obtain these inexpensive, tried-and-tested drugs because they are currently not listed in the “British National Formulary” as specifically licensed for the new purpose of prevention, despite successful clinical trials. There are currently three drugs in that situation: Tamoxifen, Raloxifene and Anastrozole.


Nick Thomas-Symonds
Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mike Kane
I would be happy to give way, having got the names of those drugs right.

Nick Thomas-Symonds
I understand that a new policy is being put together by those in charge of the “British National Formulary”, which will set out how they will get more off-label drugs into the formulary. Does my hon. Friend agree that the sooner that policy is available for us to see the better?

Mike Kane
I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing so much work in this area since he came to Parliament. We can only hope that what he says is true; perhaps the Minister can give us more information on that point in her summing up.

The Prevent Breast Cancer research unit has more out-of-patent drugs under investigation for breast cancer prevention which may be even better for the future. As well as doing everything we can to extend the life of women with secondary breast cancer, we must do all we can to prevent breast cancer from occurring in the first place. As we all know, the adage is that prevention is better than cure. For those with secondary cancer, for whom cure is currently out of reach, many people will be striving to achieve that for the next generation.

At the moment, the system is standing in the way. A solution to make those drugs more widely available that would cost very little money indeed would be to ask NICE to list such drugs as approved for the new indication of prevention in the “British National Formulary”—following the evaluation of relevant clinical trials, of course—so that doctors can have confidence in prescribing them. The requirement to obtain a new Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency licence for the ​new indication is expensive and impractical for repurposed medications, because they usually lack a sponsoring pharmaceutical company to champion the new use of the generic drug. I am sure the Minister would agree that such a small change would be transformative in the prevention of breast cancer. I hope that she will ask NICE to consider that change to the way in which drugs are listed in the “British National Formulary”, to allow drugs that have been evaluated for a new purpose, such as prevention, to be listed as approved for that purpose.

When we lose someone prematurely to cancer, grief obviously follows. It has been my experience that when we lose someone to breast cancer, the grief is particularly poignant. Tonight, my thoughts and prayers will be with all my constituents who have either succumbed to the disease or are battling it, and with their families who carry the consequences. I lost my cousin Maura Kane to the disease, and my two friends Tom and Claire both lost their mothers to it. I stand in solidarity with my constituent and friend Sheila Higgins, who is battling this disease. She has been like a mother to me for the last two decades. Finally, my parliamentary assistant Suzanne Richards came back to work after Christmas with a clean bill of health. She was diagnosed with a virulent strain last year, but she had world-class treatment at the Wythenshawe and Christie hospitals. Today is her birthday, but it is a birthday that many of us feared she would never see—happy birthday, Suzanne.

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