Immunotherapy drug available on the NHS

Posted on 2017-09-20

An immunotherapy drug has been made immediately available to NHS patients in England.

Nivolumab has been proven to extend the lives of patients with certain cancers such as advanced squamous and non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer. This approval will mean around 1,300 people will now be able to access this drug.

Nivolumab was previously estimated to be too expensive to be offered on the NHS but is already available in Scotland for those that are unresponsive to chemotherapy. Campaigners have been fighting for access to this drug.

The drug works by blocking the molecule PD-L1 which is expressed on tumour cells. This molecule is an immune checkpoint that normally alerts the body's immune cells it's a healthy cell and to not attack it. Cancer cells manipulate PD-L1 to avoid to detection so they can proliferate uncontrollably. When cancer cells can no longer hide, immune cells can attack.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved nivolumab through the fast-track Cancer Drugs Fund while more evidence is gathered on its cost-effectiveness.

Prof Carole Longson, from NICE, said: "We know that nivolumab is clinically effective for some people with lung cancer, but the full extent of its benefit is not clear.

"This new deal means that we can give patients access to what we know is a promising treatment whilst more evidence is gathered on its value."

Prof Paul Workman, from the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, said: "Immunotherapies are currently very expensive, but one of the ways to make them more cost-effective is to direct them to patients most likely to respond. Today's decision is a welcome step in the right direction."

Immunotherapy is the cancer treatment of the future so NHS is doing the right thing by allowing access to this game-changing treatment.

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