SOMETIMES, scientific progress can throw up heartwrenching dilemmas. Kadcyla is a new cancer drug that could extend the lives of women with certain forms of breast cancer by six months.
The problem is that the drug, developed by pharmaceutical firm Roche, costs about £90,000 per patient. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that is too expensive.
Such a ruling may seem callous. York breast cancer sufferer Rose Merritt certainly feels so. Rose, 36, is responding well to treatment and hers is, anyway, not a form of the disease that would be treated by Kadcyla.
But she understand the desperation of women to whom it might offer hope – many of them younger women who “have lives they want to get on with for as long as possible”.
No one could fail to sympathise with that point of view. But NICE is faced with impossible choices. Should the NHS spend £90,000 per patient on Kadcyla – or should it spend that money on other treatments, such as knee operations, heart drugs, kidney transplants or IVF?
There are no easy answers. In the longer term, if we want to enjoy the benefits of new drugs and treatments, we may all have to agree to pay more through tax to fund the NHS.
For now, we hope it is still not too late for NICE and Roche to reach some kind of compromise. With new drugs being developed all the time, however, this issue will not go away.