Today’s news that NICE has approved more treatment options to prevent breast cancer in women at high risk of the disease, again demonstrates the value that medicines are bringing over their lifecycle.
Tamoxifen and raloxifene are medicines widely used to treat breast cancer but in recent years have proven effective at preventing the condition as well. NICE’s decision to recommend these treatments today has been described as 'a game-changer' for breast cancer prevention and highlights what incremental innovation in medicines can achieve.
This is the latest in a long line of success stories about medicines which were originally developed for one purpose and then over time were found to have previously undiscovered benefits and uses. Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of this is anti-retrovirals used to treat HIV. Medicines which originally transformed prognosis and quality of life, are now being used preventatively which has had a huge impact on the global fight against HIV
The long-term impact of these discoveries should not be underestimated, and they are made possible by years of research and investment. As explained in 'Many faces of innovation', innovation is the result of continuous study and development and virtually all modern medicines are the product of many incremental steps forward over time. The UK pharmaceutical industry invests £13.3 million in research and development every single day to deliver these steps forward.
As we celebrate the impact that tamoxifen and raloxifene are having in not only treating, but also preventing breast cancer, it is worth remembering that the benefits these medicines have delivered over their lifecycle could not have been predicted at the time of their launch. Had health services chosen not to invest in them, then it is quite possible that the full benefit would never have been realised.
We all want more announcements like the one we heard today, but this will only be possible if pharmaceutical companies’ risks and up-front investments are acknowledged by appropriate reimbursement further down the line. Today’s welcome announcement is one of many great examples; let’s hope that we are in a position to celebrate many more in the months and years to come.
ABPI Chief Executive