Skin cancer drugs fast tracked for NHS approval
17th June 2016 - Patients with advanced skin cancer in England and Wales will be able to access a combination of 2 immunotherapy drugs after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) announced it would approve their use on the NHS.
The NICE appraisal of nivolumab and ipilimumab has been published in draft guidance.
Nivolumab is also known by its brand name Opdivo and ipilimumab is traded as Yervoy.
Fighting cancer cells
NICE says that nivolumab and ipilimumab are part of an exciting new class of immunotherapy cancer treatments that disable the natural restrictions preventing the immune system fighting cancer cells.
It says approval for the treatment was fast tracked in England and Wales because the evidence shows that the combo could benefit around 1,300 patients each year.
Also, the manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb has agreed to a confidential discount for the NHS.
Extending life expectancy by 8 months
The medications have been shown to delay the advance of inoperable or metastatic melanoma by an average of 8 months compared with standard treatment.
Life expectancy for people with advanced skin cancer is currently under 2 years. Melanoma accounted for around 1,750 deaths in 2012 in England, and 12,200 people were diagnosed in 2013.
Professor Carole Longson, director of the Health Technology Evaluation Centre at NICE, says ion a statement: "After one of the fastest drug appraisals NICE has carried out, these promising new immunotherapy treatments for advanced melanoma look set to significantly extend the life of people with the condition.
"The evidence we examined was very promising and I know further trials are ongoing which have also released encouraging data."
The committee concluded that the availability of an effective new treatment option such as nivolumab in combination with ipilimumab would be valuable for people with advanced melanoma who are fit enough to tolerate it."
The drug combination has significant side effects, including diarrhoea and liver damage.
'New hope' for skin cancer patients
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, says in a statement: "It’s great to see the research into how our immune system can recognise some cancers being turned into real progress for patients with advanced melanoma, with a positive recommendation from NICE.
"The combination of two antibodies releases the footbrake and the handbrake on the immune system, so it can fight the cancer more powerfully.
"These results give new hope to melanoma patients. But, it’s important to remember that more powerful treatment comes with an increased chance of severe side effects. Our research now needs to identify which patients are most likely to benefit from this combination and who is most likely to experience the side effects, so doctors can make sure we get the balance right."
Until NICE issues final guidance, NHS bodies should make decisions locally on the funding of specific treatments.