atients with incurable cervical cancer are to be offered a new treatment which could give them more time with their loved ones.
Keytruda, an immunotherapy drug manufactured by Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), is the first new treatment in 14 years approved to treat advanced cervical cancer.
It is expected that over the next three years around 400 patients will benefit from the treatment, also known as pembrolizumab.
The drug is already offered for the treatment of several other cancers including breast, bowel, lung and skin.
This first immunotherapy marks a significant step forward that will provide hundreds of people with precious time with their loved ones
It has been given the green light by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in final draft guidance for certain patients with cervical cancer whose disease has not responded to other treatments.
The treatment, which works by targeting and blocking a specific protein called PD-L1 on the surface of certain immune cells, which then seek out and destroy cancerous cells, is to be offered to patients alongside standard chemotherapy.
Clinical trials, which are ongoing, suggest it could give patients eight more months to live on average compared with chemotherapy alone.
The drug has not been approved for routine NHS use but through a special funding method called the Cancer Drugs Fund, which pays for cancer treatments while data is still being collected on their clinical effectiveness.
Helen Knight, director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said: “Pembrolizumab shows promise as the first effective immunotherapy.
“However, to ensure the best use of limited public funding, we need additional evidence to fully analyse its clinical and cost effectiveness before it can be considered for routine NHS use.”
John Stewart, NHS England’s director of specialised commissioning and interim commercial medicines director, said: “After nearly 15 years without a new treatment for this type of advanced cervical cancer, this first immunotherapy marks a significant step forward that will provide hundreds of people with precious time with their loved ones.”
Dame Cally Palmer, NHS England’s national director for cancer, added: “Making this life-extending drug available today is a significant moment for women with advanced cervical cancer, which disproportionately affects younger women, allowing them to spend more precious time with loved ones and enjoy a better and longer quality of life.”
Samantha Dixon, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Today’s announcement that pembrolizumab will be available in England through the Cancer Drugs Fund is fantastic news.
“Treatments are far too limited for those living with advanced cervical cancer and this provides patients with a valuable option, hope and most importantly time.”
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