A “personalised” pill for advanced skin cancer that can extend life has been approved for use in the UK.
The drug, vemurafenib, only works for patients with a specific variant of the BRAF gene.
It was developed after scientists learned that the mutation drives tumour growth in about 50% of patients with malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Vemurafenib, taken as four pills twice a day, blocks the cancer-causing form of the gene. A test is available to identify patients who might benefit from the treatment.
In clinical trials vemurafenib increased the life expectancy of patients with advanced disease from 9.6 months to 13.2 months.
The European Commission has now licensed the drug for adults whose cancer is inoperable or has spread, making it available in the UK.
However it will not routinely be offered to NHS without backing from the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) which looks at the cost effectiveness of new treatments.
The ground work which led to the development of vemurafenib was carried out at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICF) and Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
Professor Alan Ashworth, chief executive of the ICF, said: “The success of vemurafenib demonstrates the importance of our approach to developing personalised medicines for cancer.”