A new skin cancer drug will be available in the NHS, after the drug watchdog of NHS England approved it.
The backing for nivolumab, despite its £5,700 per month price, is indicative of the faith in this new medicine.
Marketed by its manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb as Opdivo, it is hoped that the adoption of this new treatment will alleviate concerns of patient groups that the UK is falling behind the Eurozone in terms of adopting new drugs.
Opdivo is the second new cancer drug that has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the past four months.
Both of these are anti-PD-1 checkpoint inhibitors, which intend to boost the ability of immune systems to identify, and ultimately destroy, cancer cells.
The drugs are considered a genuine innovation in the industry, part of a broader category of so-called “cancer immunotherapies”.
These treatments have been proclaimed to be the most critical advanced in oncology for several decades, with the potential to generate tens of billions of dollars in new sales for the pharmaceutical industry.
It is hoped that this new medicine can have a seriously positive impact on those patients suffering with advanced melanoma; the most critical form of skin cancer.
The drug has been able to extend lifespans by months or even years once successful, although it should be stated in mitigation that only one-third of patients actually responded positively to the drug in clinical trials.
Not only is this an innovative product, but approval for the drug also indicates that the deadlock between the pharmaceutical industry and NICE may be coming to an end.
Big pharma companies have frequently contested that medicines which are widely on sale in Europe have been outlawed in England.
But, conversely, NICE Has argued that the prices charged for many treatments are simply too high to be cost-effective for the NHS.
Commenting on the issue, Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, stated that it was encouraging that NICE had approved Opdivo at the first time of asking.
Workman believes that the treatment could have a serious impact on the skin cancer in the UK. “It’s vital that we get novel and exciting cancer treatments to patients as quickly as possible, and avoid the tortuous back and forths we have seen with other recent appraisals.”
However, despite the fact that the drug has been approved in the short-term, there could still be a battle ahead for the manufacturer of the medicine.
The government is due to review the Cancer Drugs Fund in the months ahead, with this special scheme due to expire in April.
With dozens of drugs having been scrapped from the fund owing to its seemingly out-of-control budget, there is ultimately no guarantee that Opdivo will remain available to NHS patients indefinitely.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Britain. More than 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma cancer and more than 13,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year.
More than 2,100 Britons die from skin cancer every year.