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Abemaciclib: what is new breast cancer drug, what are side effects, when will it be available on NHS?

The drug usually costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150 mg tablets

A new treatment for early breast cancer has been provisionally approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), with the drug to benefit around 4,000 patients in England.

But what is abemaciclib, how effective is it, what are the side effects and when will it be available on the NHS?

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The drug usually costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150 mg tablets

Here’s what you need to know.

What is abemaciclib?

Abemaciclib - also called Verzenios - is taken as a twice daily pill and is manufactured by Eli Lilly.

It is a CDK4/6 inhibitor and works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow.

How would the treatment work?

Final draft guidance from NICE gives provisional approval of abemaciclib in combination with hormone therapy as an option after surgery.

The drug is recommended for people with hormone receptor positive, HER2 negative, node positive early breast cancer who are at high risk of recurrence and who have had surgery to remove their tumour.

What are the side effects?

According to Cancer Research UK, these are some of the side effects of abemaciclib:

  • Increased risk of infection
  • Breathlessness and looking pale
  • Bruising, bleeding gums or nose bleeds
  • Loss of appetite
  • Taste changes
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hair loss
  • Skin problems
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • High temperature (fever)
  • Liver changes

How effective is abemaciclib?

The recommendation from NICE comes after trial results show that people being treated with abemaciclib and hormone therapy had a more than 30% better chance of their cancer not returning following surgery, compared with those who just had hormone therapy.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said: “The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible. Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Will it be available on the NHS?

Yes, the treatment will be available on the NHS if approved for use.

Although the drug normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150 mg tablets, the company has agreed a confidential NHS discount, according to NICE.