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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

NHS approving 'breakthrough' skin cancer drugs

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

2nd November 2012 - Two new skin cancer treatments are to be approved for NHS funding in England and Wales after manufacturers offered special discounts.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued new final draft guidance recommending ipilimumab (Yervoy) and vemurafenib (Zelboraf). It is calling them "breakthrough" treatments.

These treatments had previously been turned down by NICE. The manufacturers have now supplied further evidence about the treatments as well as lower pricing. NICE now considers the drugs to be a cost effective use of NHS resources.

Vemurafenib and ipilimumab are the first new drug treatments for advanced melanoma for over a decade. The current NHS treatment is the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine.

Breakthough skin cancer treatments

Ipilimumab is being recommended for treating advanced malignant melanoma in people who have already had chemotherapy. A course of treatment with ipilimumab would cost £75,000 before the NHS discount, which is being kept confidential. Up to 500 people a year could be eligible for the new treatment.

Vemurafenib is being recommended for a form of unresectable locally advanced or metastatic melanoma. There is evidence vemurafenib can extend a person's life by at least three months compared with current NHS treatment. The treatment would cost around £52,500 for an average 30 weeks of treatment before the NHS discount arrangement, known as a patient access scheme. Up to 1,000 people a year could be eligible for the new treatment.

'Good news for skin cancer patients'

In a statement, Professor Carole Longson, NICE health technology evaluation centre director says: "Advanced melanoma can significantly affect patients’ quality of life and without effective new therapies, the prognosis for advanced disease is very poor. For many years the treatments available for this condition have been very limited and in some cases restricted to palliative care. However, there are now a number of new treatments being developed and vemurafenib and ipilimumab are the first two that NICE has been asked to review.

"These new draft recommendations represent really good news for skin cancer patients. Vemurafenib and ipilimumab are breakthrough treatments that can potentially significantly affect prognosis for these patients and we are very pleased that the manufacturers have worked with us so that we are now able to recommend both ipilimumab and vemurafenib."

Reacting to the decision in a statement, Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, says: "We're delighted that discounts on the price of these drugs mean that NICE has been able to approve vemurafenib and ipilimumab for routine use on the NHS.

"Although they are not cures, these treatments represent real signs of progress through our understanding of biology for people with advanced skin cancer - a disease where new treatments are long overdue."

Until NICE issues final guidance, local NHS organisations have to make their own decisions on funding treatments.

Reviewed on November 02, 2012

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