12th August 2013 - A new drug treatment is available for people with severe basal-cell carcinoma skin cancer. Before regulators licensed vismodegib, also known by its brand name Erivedge, the treatment options were surgery or radiotherapy.
Although the drug has been licenced for use in the UK, the NHS has not yet assessed its cost effectiveness. However, it may be available in England though the special cancer drugs fund, used to pay for cancer drugs that haven’t been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Basal-cell carcinoma is a common, slow-growing form of skin cancer. The cancer develops in cells in the deepest layer of the skin, called basal cells. It is also known as BCC or a rodent ulcer.
Vismodegib is licenced to treat adults with BCC where the cancer is in advanced stages, either where it has spread to other parts of the body and is causing symptoms, or where it is starting to spread locally but is not suitable for surgical treatment or radiotherapy.
Vismodegib has been given conditional approval, which means regulators are expecting more evidence about the treatment, which will remain under review.
It will be prescribed by cancer specialists as a daily tablet. Treatment will continue as long as the medicine is helping or depending on side-effects.
Vismodegib works by disrupting what's called the Hedgehog signalling pathway, blocking a protein that affects cancer cell growth.
The evidence regulators looked at for the medication included a trial involving 104 patients with basal-cell carcinoma.
Around 33% of patients where the cancer had spread and 48% of patients with locally advanced cancer disease responded to with a significant reduction in tumour size.
The granting of the licence in the EU and UK has been welcomed by Cancer Research UK. In a statement, chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar says: "We are proud to have played a key role in the early development of this drug and we're delighted that it has passed this regulatory hurdle and is approved for use in the UK.
This drug is a major advance for the treatment of this disease, providing advanced basal cell carcinoma patients with a new treatment option. This is great news for patients and it's thanks to the generosity of our supporters that we can invest in crucial early research which sparks advances like this."
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