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NHS approves ‘life-saving’ AstraZeneca drug for breast cancer

Around 300 women in England with HER2-negative early breast cancer will be eligible for the new drug each year

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Hundreds of breast cancer patients in England could benefit from a breakthrough targeted therapy, following an NHS commercial deal with AstraZeneca.

The drug targets cancer patients with the BRCA gene, also known as the “Jolie gene” after Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie opted for a double mastectomy in 2013 after testing positive for the gene.

Olaparib works by stopping cancer cells from being able to repair their DNA by blocking a molecule called PARP, which causes the cancerous cells to die.

Around 300 women with HER2-negative early breast cancer who are at high risk of the disease returning, will be eligible for this new drug each year in England.

Clinical trials showed that giving olaparib after chemotherapy reduced the relative risk of the disease returning within four years by nearly a third.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) opted last year not to recommend olaparib for breast cancer patients because of its high cost. But after NHS England negotiated a commercial deal with AstraZeneca, the watchdog has reversed its decision.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said the landmark deal is incredible news for patients and their families.

“Olaparib could have a huge impact on patients with a range of cancer types, giving many a better chance of survival while offering those with advanced forms of the disease precious extra months to live.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “It’s fantastic news that olaparib, which is a ground-breaking and potentially life-saving treatment for certain people with primary breast cancer, has now been approved for use on the NHS.

“Around five to ten per cent of women with breast cancer carry an inherited altered gene of which the BRCA 1 and 2 genes are the most common. Sadly, some people with high-risk, HER2 negative primary breast cancer with an altered BRCA gene – often known as the ‘Jolie gene’ – may see their cancer return following treatment.

“Crucially, olaparib can reduce the risk of people’s cancer returning or progressing to incurable secondary breast cancer and stop people dying from this devastating disease”.

Health Minister, Helen Whately, added: “For hundreds of people with cancer and their families, today offers the hope of more precious time with loved ones.

“We are committed to providing world-class cancer care to patients and are always working together with clinicians to find new, cutting-edge treatments.”

David Brocklehurst, head of oncology at AstraZeneca UK, said: “We know how devastating a diagnosis of either of these hard-to-treat, aggressive cancers can be, for patients and their loved ones. Until now, treatment options for cancers resulting from BRCA mutations have been extremely limited.

“The availability of olaparib, a treatment discovered and developed in the UK, makes us extremely proud.

“Treatment innovations such as these underscore our bold long-term ambition to eliminate cancer as a cause of death”.

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Start-up launches London Underground campaign to break down period stigma

The two-week campaign seeks to challenge societal taboos surrounding menstrual health

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The Irish women’s health start-up Riley has launched an ad campaign on the London Underground to “take the fear out of periods”.

Riley, an eco-friendly period product subscription service, aims to take action against period poverty and democratise access to period products.

The company seeks to encourage the introduction of menstrual health policies and foster a workplace where discussions around periods are normalised.

Its two-week London Underground campaign, which coincides with the opening of its first office in London, is hoped to help destigmatise periods and normalise conversations around menstrual health.

“The idea behind this campaign comes from the fact that free period care in the office is often seen as an employee perk or a ‘nice to have’, when it should actually be an essential offering in every office,” Meaghan Droney, eCommerce manager at Riley, told Femtech World.

“Our aim with this campaign is to flip those current mindsets and get people to change their attitudes towards period care in the workplace.

“With 79 per cent of menstruators feeling unsupported in relation to their periods at work, this oversight is clearly fundamentally unfair and it’s time for change.

“We’re encouraging any and all businesses to get in touch with us so we can support them in introducing menstrual policies and free period care in their workplace to empower all employees, no matter their gender, to thrive and feel valued at work.”

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that only 12 per cent of UK companies provide support for menstruation and menstrual health, despite 85 per cent of women experiencing stress or anxiety when managing their period at work.

Data suggests that half of the women who take absence because of their menstrual cycle feel unable to tell their manager, underscoring the deep-rooted stigma around periods.

Fiona Parfrey, co-founder of Riley, said: “Access to safe and high-quality sustainable period care products not only demonstrates a commitment to employee welfare but also fosters a culture of empathy, equality, and respect, ultimately contributing to a more engaged and empowered workforce.

“Menstrual policies and free period care are a fundamental necessity for every individual in the workplace. It’s about ensuring that employees have the resources they need to maintain their wellbeing and productivity without interruption.”

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Singapore-based fertility centre sets up grant for couples struggling to conceive

This grant aims to support eligible Singaporean couples facing financial and family planning challenges

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A Singapore-based fertility centre is to set up a grant to support couples struggling to conceive.

Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore (VFCS) announced that it would set up a grant to support aspiring parents on their IVF journey.

The initial grant is set for at $50,000 SGD and, depending on the take-up rate over the next 12 fiscal months, VFCS plans to increase the pool to benefit more couples in the subsequent years.

The grant will cover the main costs associated with IVF treatments and procedures, including embryo retrieval and transfer, laboratory services and embryo prep. It will also be applicable to fresh and frozen egg transfers.

As grant recipients, their samples will similarly be given a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, a service VFCS provides for all its patients. It locks the patient’s identity with the respective sample. The RFID identifies gametes—eggs, sperms, or embryos—at every stage of the IVF treatment.

According to VFCS, the grant will also include access to counselling services and wellness resources.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the emotional toll and occasional frustration that infertility can take on individuals and couples, especially for some who are still young and healthy,” said Dr Roland Chieng, medical director at VFCS.

“The common deterrent of going for fertility treatment is always associated with the cost, more so in a private care setting where their only source of funds is through Medisave.

“By alleviating their financial concerns, we hope ReadyBaby Fertility Grant empowers patients to approach their IVF journey, focusing on their clinical needs and working towards a healthy pregnancy and less on financials.

“With access to the necessary treatments and support, patients can embark on their path to parenthood with renewed confidence, knowing they have the clinical resources and guidance they need to navigate this journey,” he added.

Tim Kwan, VFCS’s managing director, said: “We believe every couple deserves the opportunity to experience the profound joy of parenthood.

“With the ReadyBaby Fertility Grant, we aim to support aspiring couples on their IVF journey and help them bring new life into the world.”

To be eligible for the grant, applicants must be married Singaporean couples diagnosed with medical infertility by a fertility specialist and first-time parents who have not tried IVF before.

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Canadian insurer launches partnership to support women’s health

Members of the Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross will have access to a dedicated women’s health platform

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Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving

The Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross (MBC) has partnered with the virtual health platform sanoLiving to support women on their menopause journey.

Currently, more than 10 million Canadian women are navigating menopause, often with little support and misinformation about treatments.

With sanoMidLife, sanoLiving’s online menopause platform, Medavie Blue Cross members will have access to a national women’s health platform tailored to provide care and services for women going through the menopause.

The service includes personalised assessments, access to clinicians, treatments, educational content, peer support and AI assistance.

“Many women lack support for their menopause transition due to the misunderstandings of what is ‘normal’ and misinformation about treatments,” said Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving.

“Women are seeking solutions that allow them to thrive during midlife. We are thrilled about our alliance with Medavie Blue Cross, and our shared commitment to providing access to care that empowers women.”

Anita Swamy, senior vice president operations at Medavie Blue Cross, added: “We’ve heard first-hand from our members about the need for more menopause-related services.

“Our partnership with sanoLiving creates an innovative way to increase access to care for our members as we continue to focus on the support women need to navigate their benefits and provide forward-thinking options to support their health.”

Studies report one in 10 women exit the workforce due to unmanaged symptoms. Early onset of menopause and symptoms before age 45 can elevate the risk of health issues like heart disease, diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis.

With this new service, Medavie Blue Cross and sanoLiving are aiming to open up the conversation around menopause, reduce stigma and work towards giving women the access to the care they need.

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