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New drug approved on the NHS for advanced skin cancer treatment

Published 22/01/2016

Nice recommended nivolumab for the treatment of advanced skin cancer
Nice recommended nivolumab for the treatment of advanced skin cancer

A new drug has been approved on the NHS for the treatment of advanced skin cancer.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended nivolumab (also called Opdivo), a type of immunotherapy which stimulates the body's immune system to fight cancer cells.

Research has found that patients survive much longer on the drug than those given conventional chemotherapy.

The one-year survival rate was 73% for those on nivolumab compared to 42% for chemotherapy.

Nivolumab targets and blocks a protein called PD-1 on the surface of certain immune cells called T-cells. Blocking PD-1 activates T-cells to find and kill cancer cells.

Nice has previously rejected the drug for patients with advanced lung cancer.

One study found that patients with non-small cell lung cancer treated with nivolumab lived an average of 12.2 months, while patients treated with a chemotherapy drug lived an average of 9.4 months.

Professor Carole Longson from Nice said: "We are pleased to be able to recommend nivolumab for treating advanced skin cancer in final draft guidance.

"In 2011, over 13,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma in the UK, and it accounts for more deaths than all other skin cancers combined. I am sure this will be welcome news to patients and healthcare professionals alike."

Johanna Mercier, general manager of Bristol-Myers Squibb in the UK, which makes the drug, said: "We welcome today's decision from Nice, which is positive news for melanoma patients in the UK.

"However, we are mindful that lung cancer patients continue to await a final decision on this medicine.

"Recently, Nice issued draft guidance, which does not recommend nivolumab in advanced lung cancer. Its final guidance for these patients will be issued in May 2016."

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