Patients battling treatment resistant melanoma in England may find hope in a recently NHS-approved immunotherapy product. Keytruda (pembrolizumab) belongs to an emerging class of highly-promising anti-cancer agents called checkpoint inhibitors that work by disabling cancer cells’ ability to go undetected by the immune system. While studies show that not all patients will respond to Keytruda, those that do experience clinically significant health benefits.
Earlier in 2015, global clinical trials of Keytruda demonstrated that some patients exhibited a more notable therapeutic response compared to chemotherapy, and enjoyed the added assurance of less debilitating side effects. NHS’ decision to finally make the drug available in England ultimately means melanoma patients who have stopped responding to ipilimumab and to genetic therapy, can avail of one other treatment option.
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said Keytruda is ‘a great example’ of the advancements being made in research and development of immunotherapy for cancer. “Pembrolizumab provides another option for patients with skin cancer which has spread around the body after they’ve tried other drugs. We’re pleased that NICE have acted quickly to make the drug available on the NHS in England and Wales,” he added.
It was in March 2015 that Keytruda officially became one of the first drugs to be released to the public under England government’s Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS), which enables pharmaceutical companies to negotiate with the NHS on providing and paying for their promising therapeutics’ public availability before it officially goes on sale. While this decision only affects England, the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments are already considering following suit, with the Scottish Medicines Consortium preparing to publish advice on the drug in November.
Professor Carole Longson, the Director of NICE’s Health Technology Evaluation Centre said: “We are pleased to be able to recommend pembrolizumab, the first EAMS drug, in final draft guidance. I am sure this will be welcome news to patients and healthcare professionals alike.”
NICE is also evaluating the possibility to making Keytruda available to patients earlier on in the disease. A decision on this matter is expected early 2016.