New hope for skin cancer patients

Updated: 06:22, Saturday November 3, 2012

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Patients with an advanced form of skin cancer in the UK have found new hope after Britain’s health watchdog reversed a decision to deny two drugs which could prolong life.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) confirmed the treatment will now be made available on the NHS in England and Wales.

Clinical trials have shown that Yervoy – also kown as ipilimumab – and Vemurafenib can extend the lives of patients with advanced melanoma by up to four years.

Tests for Vemurafenib showed a reduction in the size of tumours for more than half of patients.

Professor Carole Longson, director at the Health Technology Evaluation Centre at Nice, said: ‘These new draft recommendations represent really good news for skin cancer patients.

‘Vemurafenib and ipilimumab are breakthrough treatments that can potentially significantly affect prognosis for these patients.’

Nice issued draft guidance earlier this year rejecting the drugs on the grounds that they were too expensive and that long-term benefits had not been proven.

Vemurafenib, which is also known as zelboraf and is manufactured by Roche, has been recommended for the treatment of late-stage metastatic melanoma.

Ipilimumab, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, is recommended for the treatment of advanced malignant melanoma in people who have received prior chemotherapy.

The institute’s about-turn has been welcomed by a patient support group which said that it was a development many melanoma patients, their families and their doctors had been waiting for.

Gill Nuttall of ‘Factor 50’ said: ‘I am absolutely delighted that Nice have overturned their original decision and that the patients I speak to every day can start to get the treatments that they so desperately need.

‘Some of the patients who were here at the time of the original decision are sadly no longer with us and today will be tinged with sadness for some people.

‘I am really pleased that Nice paid attention to all the comments made by the patients and clinicians and that those patients can now start to benefit from this innovative new treatment.’

The drugs are not suitable for all melanoma patients but former town clerk Barry Smith, 62, from North West England is currently taking one of the drugs now given approval for NHS use.

He said: ‘When one is given a drug that can reduce your cancer and you can see the positive effects of the drug your whole being, physically and mentally grows in confidence about your future.

‘I fully realise that the drug is not a cure but a prolonging of life and hopefully a better quality of life for the time one has left cannot be underestimated.

‘If the drug Vemurafenib could be given to patients at an early stage, perhaps it could prevent patients progressing to an advanced form of the cancer.’

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