‘Potentially lifesaving’ new drug to be offered on NHS to hundreds of breast cancer sufferers

Pembrolizumab will be one of just a few treatments that currently exist for triple negative breast cancer.

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 8th November 2022

A groundbreaking new drug has been approved on the NHS, and it could benefit hundreds suffering from one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

It’s been revealed this week that NHS bosses have struck a deal with the manufacturers of the drug pembrolizumab, and have now been given the greenlight to treat around 1,600 patients in England who are suffering from triple negative breast cancer – which is one of the rarest and most aggressive forms of the disease.

Triple negative breast cancer accounts for around 15% of all cases, and is responsible for a quarter of all breast cancer deaths.

According to the charity Breast Cancer Now – which promotes cancer research, and offers support to sufferers – triple negative breast cancer is a particularly common form in those under 40, black women, and those who have inherited the BRCA gene.

Triple negative breast cancer patients have a shorter survival time than those with other forms of the disease, and typically, the risk of it returning and spreading to other parts of the body in the first few years after treatment is higher than for other cancer suffers.


But now, scientists say that for those taking the new drug – which is a form of immunotherapy, and will be used alongside chemotherapy before surgery – the likelihood that the cancer will disappear, and the time before cancer returns, will increase.

Pembrolizumab will be one of just a few treatments that currently exist for triple negative breast cancer.


Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, said the rollout of pembrolizumab – which she called “an innovative, potentially life-saving treatment” – was “fantastic news”, and said that it represented “a hugely significant moment for women”.

“It will give hope to those who are diagnosed and prevent the cancer from progressing, allowing people to live normal, healthy lives,” she added.

Breast Cancer Now has also hailed the approval of the new treatment.


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“This new treatment can potentially lead to any detectable cancer disappearing by the time of surgery, meaning patients will then possibly face less invasive, breast-conserving surgery,” said Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now.

“By significantly reducing the likelihood of breast cancer recurring or spreading to other parts of the body where it becomes incurable secondary breast cancer, this treatment brings precious hope of more lives potentially being saved from this devastating disease.”

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