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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved a life-extending lung cancer drug for wider availability through the NHS.
A draft recommendation from the regulator has endorsed pembrolizumab, also known as Keytruda, as an option for adults with untreated metastatic lung cancer who test positive for a protein marker known as PD-L1. If no organisations appeal the decision, NICE expects to publish final guidance confirming this ruling later this month.
Previously, pembrolizumab had only been widely available to adults with advanced lung cancer if their disease had progressed after receiving another treatment while patients with untreated lung cancer had to apply for special funding via the Cancer Drugs Fund.
This original ruling dates back to June 2017, when NICE determined that the drug demonstrated considerable promise, but ultimately decided that more data was needed to establish the drug's survival benefits before approving it for wider use.
Evidence from a new clinical trial has since showed that pembrolizumab can deliver an average survival improvement of around 16 months compared to standard chemotherapy, which was a significant enough margin for NICE to change its ruling. Additionally, manufacturer Merck Sharp and Dohme has agreed to provide the therapy to the NHS at a confidential discounted price.
Simon Stevens, NHS England's chief executive, said: "This is another milestone in our rapidly improving modern NHS cancer care. This win-win deal for patients and taxpayers brings genuine innovation and proven survival gains to cancer patients across England."
It is expected that around 1,800 patients a year will be eligible for the drug following this ruling. In the past 20 years, there have been few significant treatment advances for people with the type of lung cancer this drug is designed to address, so this represents a potentially meaningful step forward for these patients.
Written by James Puckle
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