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Cancer drug in early access scheme

A cancer drug has become the first to be fast-tracked under a new scheme for patients suffering from life-threatening or seriously debilitating conditions who have no other treatment options available to them.

Pembrolizumab will be offered to those with advanced melanoma under the early access to medicines scheme (EAMS), which was announced by the Government a year ago.

The initiative means researchers can apply for medicines to be made available as soon as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) signals that the benefits outweigh the risks following an initial scientific assessment, and before they are fully licensed.

Pembrolizumab works by making the cancer cell "visible" to the immune system so it can be destroyed by the body's natural defence mechanisms.

Clinical trials have shown improvements in the prognosis for patients treated with the drug and it is thought it could help a substantial number of people in the UK with advanced melanoma who have limited remaining options.

Minister for life sciences, George Freeman, said: "The explosion of biomedical innovation - whether in genomics, regenerative medicine or digital health is transforming 21st century medicine. But in recent years too many NHS patients have had to wait too long to access new treatments and slow uptake also threatens life science industry investment.

"Today's announcements show that the UK is now leading in the global race to accelerate access to medical innovations which is key to our economic health."

Gillian Nuttall, of support group Melanoma UK, said: "This news will be greatly received by the melanoma community. At the moment, there are limited options for advanced melanoma patients, the majority of whom are in difficult positions which simply means they cannot afford to play any kind of waiting game.

"We welcome early access to this treatment for advanced patients made possible through this new scheme. There is clearly an unmet need and we are delighted such progress is being made."

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