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Daily pill given green light for skin cancer patients

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A new oral treatment has been authorised in the UK for advanced basal cell carcinomas that are unsuitable for surgery and radiotherapy.

Vismodegib (Erivedge), the first-of-a-kind once daily treatment, has been conditionally approved by the European Medicines Agency and will be added to the national Cancer Drugs Fund list.

It has been shown to shrink visible lesions in 47% of patients with locally advanced basal cell carcinomas inappropriate for surgery or radiotherapy, and shrink tumours in 33% of those with metastatic basal cell carcinomas.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer in the UK and is often found on the head and neck. The advanced form of the disease affects up to 700 people a year in the UK.

Left to become large or because of recurrence after treatment, it may become disfiguring and become inappropriate for standard treatments – surgery or radiotherapy.

The Charity Cancer Research UK helped identify abnormal cell signalling pathway that the drug targets.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar said: “We are proud to have played a key role in the early development of this drug and we’re delighted that it has passed this regulatory hurdle and is approved for use in the UK.

“This drug is a major advance for the treatment of this disease, providing advanced basal cell carcinoma patients with a new treatment option.”

The most common drug-related adverse events were muscle spasms, hair loss, altered taste sensation, weight loss, fatigue, nausea, decreased appetite and diarrhoea.

In addition, vismodegib may cause embryo-foetal death or severe birth defects therefore vismodegib must not be given to pregnant women.

The Cancer Drugs Fund was established in 2010.

It provides an additional £200m each year to enable patients with cancer in England to receive access to drugs that are either not routinely available on the NHS, or have not been approved or appraised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

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