Breast Cancer Breakthrough Could Save Black Women Money

  • The 5 year survival rate was 83% for black women between 2011 - 2015
  • In 2017 Roche made $7 billion from Herceptin in global sales

Treating breast-cancer patients may become a little cheaper and more efficient. A study by the U.K. National Institute for Health Research has found a six month treatment of Roche’s (RHHBY +1.83%) Herceptin drug is just as effective as the longer 12 month cycle. Just how much can black women benefit from shorter treatment cycles?

Why This Matters: African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers. Black women are more often diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer called triple-negative. It’s a subtype that does not rely on hormones to fuel its growth. Between 2011 and 2015 the five year relative survival rate was 83% for black women, according to the American Cancer Society.

The study by the U.K. National Institute for Health Research has found Herceptin can be just as effective in half the amount of time. This is a potential game changing discovery for black women because the drug has improved treatment for an aggressive type of breast cancer known as HER2-positive.

In the study researchers found 89.4% of the women who took Herceptin for six months were free of disease four years after the start of treatment, versus 89.8% for women who received 12 months of treatment. Roche’s Genentech unit noted the new study should be viewed in the context of prior studies that didn’t show that shorter treatment was better.

While this is great news for cancer patients, the same cannot be said for the company which generated about $7 billion from Herceptin in global sales for Roche last year. In the U.S., the drug costs $76,700 for 12 months of treatment and is particularly effective when used to prevent disease recurrence after breast surgery.

What’s Next: As the oncology field evolves we’re seeing more focus on precision medicine and refinement of existing treatments. This research on Herceptin will be presented next month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s meeting in Chicago.

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