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Lung cancer immunotherapy available on NHS for first time

Monday 5th June 2017
Pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy treatment for advanced lung cancer, is now available on the NHS as part of the Cancer Drugs Fund. Image: Eraxion via iStock
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New lung cancer drugs that have been proven to be significantly more effective than chemotherapy or surgery are now available to patients on the NHS for the first time.
 
Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that has been explored extensively over the past few years, with various clinical trials showing that it can reduce the risk of lung cancer progressing by 50 per cent more than chemotherapy is able to.
 
As a result, this approach has the potential to save thousands of people's lives, with pembrolizumab found to be particularly effective during initial trials, which has led to it becoming the first immunotherapy drug to be available for prescription on the NHS as part of the Cancer Drugs Fund.
 
Pembrolizumab is most effective in patients with advanced forms of lung cancer who have already undergone chemotherapy.
 
Yet despite the advanced nature of their condition, this new type of treatment can significantly reduce the risk of their illness proving fatal by stopping it from progressing further.
 
This led the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to recommend it for inclusion in the Cancer Drugs Fund late last year. It has taken several months for the first signs of this decision to be seen in UK hospitals, but the first patients are now being treated  with pembrolizumab, so some real-life health results of this move should be evident within the coming months.
 
Speaking to the Independent, Alan Melcher, professor of immunotherapy at the Institute of Cancer Research, called this an "exciting" development.
 
"We still need to do lots of work to optimise how this treatment is used and there's an awful lot we don't understand about which people will respond best," he continued.
 
"But this supports the tantalising prospect of long-term control of solid advanced tumours using immunotherapy."
 
Pembrolizumab has also been found to be effective in treating skin cancer that has begun to spread around the body or that cannot be removed with surgery. The drug has previously been available under the Early Access to Medicines Scheme for this purpose.
 
Written by James Puckle
 
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