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Melanoma pill approved for use in Scotland

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Treating inoperable melanoma with a pill that targets a faulty gene has been approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC).

The SMC has recommended that vemurafenib (Zelboraf) be made available on the NHS in Scotland for the first-line treatment of metastatic melanoma patients who are BRAF mutation-positive.

NICE recommended that the drug be used in the rest of the UK in December last year. But up until now it has not been available in Scotland, where the number of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma each year tripled to 1,202 between 1987 and 2011.

The decision was based on data showing vemurafenib can extend life to an average of more than 13 months for patients with metastatic melanoma compared to less than 10 months for those given chemotherapy. The data also showed it could stop the skin cancer progressing for four times longer than chemotherapy.

The pill, which patients will be able to take at home, targets the activity of the faulty BRAF V600 gene that is present in half of all patients with inoperable metastatic melanoma.

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary’s consultant medical oncologist Dr Marianne Nicolson said: “Advanced melanoma is an aggressive cancer affecting many patients who are in the prime of their lives.

The decision by the SMC to allow NHS clinicians in Scotland to prescribe vemurafenib for BRAF mutant melanoma patients will enable our patients to benefit from the welcome, long awaited breakthrough in the management of advanced metastatic melanoma.”

Patients’ suitability for the treatment can be assessed through a test which identifies the presence of the faulty gene.

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