Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, has welcomed the news from Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Vaughan Gething AM, that breast cancer patients who will benefit will be able to access Bisphosphonates at the local Velindre Centre, in South Wales.

Bisphosphonates are a group of drugs that strengthen bone, that are licensed to treat osteoporosis and to reduce damage to the bone caused by cancer that has spread there. But research has shown that bisphosphonates have a secondary, or “repurposed” use, since they can also reduce the risk of breast cancer spreading to the bone, and improve survival from breast cancer in post-menopausal women. It is estimated that over 1,000 breast cancer deaths a year across the UK could be cut if they were prescribed to all post-menopausal women who could benefit from them. However, because they are off-patent there is no incentive for a pharmaceutical company to licence them for this secondary purpose, which means they must be prescribed ‘off-label’, resulting in highly variable access for patients.

Following Mr Thomas-Symonds election into Parliament in 2015, he was drawn for a Private Members Bill, the Off-Patent Drugs Bill. The aim was to improve NHS access to cheap, effective, repurposed drugs such as bisphosphonates that can help treat conditions like Cancer, Parkinson’s and MS. Unfortunately, the Bill was “talked-out” in November 2015, but Nick worked closely with a cross-party group of MPs to secure legislative changes by amending a different Bill, the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill, which secured promises to widen access from the then Minister for Life Sciences.  Amendments were secured to the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill and the Government made various commitments to working to ensure that repurposed drugs are prescribed on a more consistent basis right across the UK. Mr Thomas-Symonds is currently the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Off-Patent Drugs.

The story of Mr Thomas-Symonds campaign to make Off-Patent Drugs consistently available to those who need them can be found here:

The South Wales Argus has previously covered aspects of Mr Thomas-Symonds’ campaign here:

Mr Thomas-Symonds said:

“Ever since I introduced my Off-Patent Drugs Bill into Parliament, in June 2015, I have campaigned for wider access to off-label drugs where there is sufficient evidence to show their clinical benefits. Drugs such as bisphosphonates, where the primary use is in the treatment of osteoporosis, can be very effective at preventing the spread of primary breast cancer to the bone. But the problem has been that such drugs are not prescribed as often as they could be, nor are they prescribed on a consistent basis across different parts of the country, and across different health centres.

“After my Bill was talked out in November 2015, I continued to campaign on the issue, and, in January 2016, the government accepted changes to the law on off-label medicines, and made a series of pledges on the issue in the House of Commons. One of those pledges was a promise that evidence would be put together to include legitimate off-label, off-patent uses of drugs in an appropriate registry, the British National Formulary.

“I also sought a meeting with the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Vaughan Gehting AM, on the specific issue of bisphosphonates being available at the Velindre Cancer Centre, and thank my Assembly colleague in Torfaen, Lynne Neagle AM, for her support in this.

“I am very grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for announcing that bisphosphonates will now be regularly available via Velindre Cancer Centre as a treatment for breast cancer. This will not only help many people in my own constituency of Torfaen, but people right across South Wales, in the coming months and years.”

Lynne Neagle AM said:

“I am delighted that Nick’s hard work has paid off and that Welsh Government has agreed to make bisphosphonates available via Velindre. This is good news for patients across South Wales.”

Melanie Sturtevant, Policy Manager at Breast Cancer Now, said:“It’s fantastic news that hundreds of breast cancer patients in South Wales will now be able to access bisphosphonates through the Velindre Cancer Centre. This represents an important step forward in ensuring that these potentially life-saving drugs are available to all women that could benefit from them.

“Bisphosphonates are cheap, widely-available drugs proven to help prevent breast cancer spreading around the body, where it becomes incurable. If offered to all post-menopausal women with primary breast cancer, these drugs could prevent one in ten deaths from the disease as well as saving the NHS money.

“We are grateful to Nick Thomas-Symonds MP and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for their ongoing support in improving patient access to cheap, off-patent drugs found to be effective in new uses, such as bisphosphonates for breast cancer patients. We look forward to continuing to work with them, and other stakeholders, on this important agenda.”

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