Skin and prostate cancer patients have been given new hope after the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence recommended that two new treatments should be made available on the NHS.
It is hoped that thousands of patients could benefit after NICE recommended the drugs. It said ipilimumab (Yervoy) should be available as a first-line treatment for patients with advanced and inoperable malignant melanoma.
“For many years the treatments available for advanced skin cancer have been very limited”
Ipilimumab is one of the first of a new generation of immunotherapy drugs hailed as a turning point in cancer treatment.
It has been suggested that thousands of patients with the deadliest form of skin cancer could benefit from the drug which helps the immune system destroy tumours.
NICE was previously criticised for ruling the drug should only be offered to patients who had already undergone chemotherapy or were taking part in clinical trials, but the restriction was later discarded.
Ipilimumab has been said to increase the lifespan of melanoma patients whose cancer has spread by an average of four months, but trial data suggests that one in five patients lives for at least three years after treatment.
Each year around 12,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma, and 2,200 die from the disease, which is notoriously hard to treat in its later stages.
It is estimated ipilimumab, manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb, could help between 1,000 and 2,000 patients in the UK each year.
“Advanced melanoma can significantly affect patients’ quality of life and without effective new therapies the prognosis for advanced disease is very poor,” said Professor Carole Longson, director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at NICE.
“For many years the treatments available for advanced skin cancer have been very limited and in some cases restricted to palliative care.
“However, new drugs such as ipilimumab can make a real difference. We already recommend it as a second-line treatment and are pleased to be able to extend that recommendation to first-line treatment too.”
NICE has also recommended the use of a new prostate cancer drug called enzalutamide (Xtandi).
A NICE spokeswoman said people with prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, and who have already been treated with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, will be given access to enzalutamide.
“Enzalutamide works in a different way to the other options currently available for treating prostate cancer”
It is hoped that thousands of men will benefit from the drug, which is manufactured by Astellas Pharma.
Professor Longson added: “We are pleased to confirm that enzalutamide will be made available through the NHS for patients whose prostate cancer has progressed after previous treatment with cytotoxic chemotherapy.
“Enzalutamide works in a different way to the other options currently available for treating prostate cancer. As there are few treatments available for patients at this stage of prostate cancer, this is really good news for patients.”