HOPE

New deal makes key breast cancer drug free

Herceptin (trastuzumab) subcutaneous injection will be available without copayment to all NHIF members

In Summary

• Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Kenya, with 6,000 cases diagnosed each year and 2,500 breast cancer-related deaths taking place, according to the MoH.

• The agreement will see Roche continue to strengthen the screening and early diagnosis of patients as well as the referral pathways to the treatment centers. 

A highly recommended breast cancer drug will now be freely available to patients.

This is after the Ministry of Health, the National Health Insurance Fund and manufacturer Roche signed memoranda of understanding making Herceptin (trastuzumab) subcutaneous injection available without copayment to all NHIF members.

This is the first national access programme for cancer medicines in Kenya and an important step to ensuring Kenyan women with breast cancer have access to standard-of-care treatment.

As part of the agreement, Roche said it will also support capacity building and training of NHIF and Ministry of Health employees by independent, external experts on data management, health economics, pricing and reimbursement approaches.

The agreement will see Roche continue to strengthen the screening and early diagnosis of patients as well as the referral pathways to the treatment centres. 

Speaking at the signing on Monday, Health PS Susan Mochache said: “Cancer is one of the key public health challenges of our times. 6,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in Kenya each year, causing suffering, emotional trauma and financial stress. The Ministry of Health is already increasing screening and diagnostic services to help reduce the burden of breast cancer.

“Today’s MoU with Roche represents the next step of our focus, ensuring that breast cancer patients can now get the care they need through the NHIF without a co-payment. This means that they can focus on their health and well-being and financial strain does not need to affect access.” 

NHIF boss Dr Peter Kamunyo said: “Supporting people when they are affected by breast cancer and ensuring that they can access treatment without a co-payment means that these women and their families will reduce their financial stress and ensure that we are creating a healthcare system where we leave no one behind.” 

Frank Loeffler, general manager, Roche East Africa, said the partnership removes multiple access barriers to standard-of-care treatments for breast cancer patients in Kenya.

“The ability to allow patients, regardless of their financial situation, and regardless of where they live in Kenya access to life-saving treatments is a significant step forward for the quality of care for Kenyan women with breast cancer,” he said.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Kenya, with 6,000 cases diagnosed each year and 2,500 breast cancer-related deaths taking place, according to the ministry.

Early detection combined with effective treatment through surgical removal, radiation therapy or medication therapy (hormonal, chemical or biological therapies) can achieve survival probabilities of 90 per cent or higher. 

Herceptin is a humanised monoclonal antibody designed to target and block the function of the HER2 receptor, a protein found on the outside of many normal cells and in high quantities on the outside of cancer cells in HER2-positive cancers.

Herceptin binds to a specific section of the HER2 protein, inhibiting the signals it sends that encourage tumour cell growth, while also calling on the body’s immune system to attack the cancer cells. 

Since it was first approved in 1998, Herceptin has been used to treat over two million patients worldwide, diagnosed with HER2-positive breast and gastric cancers, Roche said.

It has also become the backbone of other innovative treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer, which have continued to improve the outcomes of patients with this otherwise aggressive disease.

In addition to the standard intravenous formulation, Herceptin is available in a subcutaneous formulation, which was first approved in 2013.

Herceptin SC represents a significant step forward in the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer as it offers patients a faster, more convenient and less painful way to receive treatment with Herceptin. 

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