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New head and neck cancer treatment added to Cancer Drugs Fund

Monday 23rd October 2017
Nivolumab will be available via the Cancer Drugs Fund for the next two years for certain head and neck cancer patients in the UK. Image: Shidlovski via iStock
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Patients with head and neck cancer that has not responded to chemotherapy will now be able to receive a new treatment for their condition via the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has decided that nivolumab should be available to patients through the CDF, despite earlier tests involving the drug proving somewhat inconclusive as to its full effects, meaning NICE was unwilling to fund it on the NHS.

However, NICE did invite its manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb - which markets the drug under the name Opdivo - to submit a proposal to the CDF to see if there was any chance of making it available through the scheme.

The pharmaceutical firm's proposal was accepted, which means patients who have undergone six months of chemotherapy for their head and neck cancer with no response will now be able to receive the drug through the CDF. The NHS and NICE will continue to gather data on the effectiveness of nivolumab during this initial trial period.

Nivolumab works by binding proteins within certain cells together, strengthening them in their ability to fight and destroy cancerous cells. The full efficacy of the treatment is not yet known, but its addition to the CDF means doctors are confident it will yield positive results for patients with cancer of the head and neck.

It is expected that 900 people in the UK will receive nivolumab during its two-year CDF trial period. Some 10,000 individuals are diagnosed with head and neck cancer in the UK each year, so the drug has the potential to help thousands of people.

Professor Carole Longson, director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at NICE, commented: "Nivolumab is an innovative drug that continues to draw attention, but its clinical evidence for some types of cancer can be uncertain.

"I am pleased the company has worked with us and NHS England to develop a managed access agreement and that we have found a way to provide for patients despite these uncertainties."

Written by James Puckle

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