Prevention is just as effective as cure for an existing breast cancer drug

Sometimes we don’t need a new drug. We’re better off with a new use for an old one.

Such is the case for anastrozole, which has been used for many years as a breast cancer treatment, but recently it was licensed by the ­Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to be used to prevent breast cancer too.

The drug almost halves the ­incidence of the disease in post-menopausal women who have an increased risk of breast cancer.

It was first recommended as a preventive option by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2017.

Up until now, however, the treatment was unlicensed for this use, and few doctors prescribed it.

Thanks to the pioneering Medicines Repurposing Programme led by NHS England, the drug has been granted a new life as a preventive option.

Around 289,000 women at moderate or high risk of breast cancer could be eligible for the drug, and if only 25% choose to take it, around 2,000 cases of breast cancer could potentially be prevented in England.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard is optimistic. She said: “It’s fantastic that this vital risk-reducing option could now help thousands of women and their families avoid the distress of a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Allowing more women to live healthier lives, free of breast cancer, is truly remarkable.

“This is the first drug to be repurposed through a world-leading new programme to help us realise the full potential of existing medicines in new uses to save and improve more lives on the NHS.

“Thanks to this initiative, we hope that greater access to anastrozole could enable more women to take risk-reducing steps if they’d like to, helping them live without fear of breast cancer.”

The disease remains the most common cancer in England, with 47,000 people being diagnosed with it each year.

But thanks to advances in screening, treatment and care, more women are surviving it than ever before.

The world-class Medicines ­Repurposing Programme was set up in 2021 during the pandemic and is hosted by NHS England.

The testing and repurposing of old medicines was something that was regularly tried as medics fought to find ways to save the lives and health of people struck down by Covid 19.

Tocilizumab, an arthritis drug, and dexamethasone, a widely available steroid, were both re-purposed as treatments for the virus.