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Pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug also known as Keytruda, has been made available to thousands of lung cancer patients in the UK through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended in draft guidance that pembrolizumab, combined with pemetrexed and platinum chemotherapy, should be an option for patients with untreated advanced lung cancer.
More than 3,000 individuals in England could be eligible for this combination treatment.
While the drug will not be available on the NHS, since further evidence is needed regarding its benefits, its potential to extend life while being cost effective made it eligible for use via the CDF.
Pembrolizumab is made by Merck, Sharpe & Dohme (MSD), which found in clinical trials that combining the drug with pemetrexed and platinum chemotherapy gave patients nearly four additional months without their cancer progressing.
The drug works by targeting a cell surface protein involved in the body's immune response to cancer.
Meindert Boysen, director of the NICE Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, said the organisation was pleased to support access to this treatment option through the CDF, since there have been few improvements for people with this type of cancer in the last two decades.
He added: "NICE recommends that this treatment is given for a maximum of two years, because it is thought that patients do not need to continue treatment beyond this point to achieve the benefits. NICE will consider this point when we review the additional evidence."
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said this underlines the value of the CDF, which makes it possible for NICE to approve promising treatments while more data is collected on their long-term benefits.
Under the CDF managed access agreement, MSD will continue to investigate the effectiveness of pembrolizumab until June 2019.
Written by James Puckle
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