UK Green-Lights New Drug For Advanced Skin Cancer

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Katrina Pascual


Pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb has received a nod from United Kingdom’s health cost regulators for the use of its drug Opdivo (nivolumab) in skin cancer cases.

The company previously failed to obtain the same recommendation from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for Opdivo as lung tumor treatment.

Following the approval, the National Health Service is now expected to make the drug accessible within three months.

Opdivo is an immune-based treatment that promises to boost one’s capacity to fight cancer cells. According to research, patients survive much longer on the drug than those provided conventional chemotherapy.

Those on nivolumab – which targets and blocks PD-1 protein on T-cells and activates them to hunt down cancer cell – had a 73 percent one-year survival rate compared with 42 percent for those on chemotherapy.

Institute of Cancer Research Chief Executive Paul Workman considered it a potential key tool in therapies against melanoma, which accounts for more deaths than all other skin cancers combined.

“There’s still huge unmet need in melanoma, because drug resistance is a problem in this disease,” said Workman.

According to NICE, Opdivo is available at around £5,265 (about $7,500) every month, with no discount offered by Bristol-Myers to win the office’s backing in the case of advanced melanoma.

Only last month, NICE rejected Opdivo as for treating lung cancer due to cost-efficiency issues, although the decision is not yet final. NICE, in its final guidance released the same day, gave Roche’s breast cancer drug Kadcyla the thumbs down, also due to cost concerns.

The final draft guidance on Opdivo can be reviewed and appealed by doctors and patient groups.

Bristol-Myers UK and Ireland General Manager Johanna Mercier said they welcome NICE’s decision and deem it good news for melanoma patients in the country.

“However, we are mindful that lung cancer patients continue to await a final decision on this medicine,” she added.

In the United Kingdom alone, around 37 people were diagnosed with skin cancer every day in 2012. Around six per day die from the illness.

One in 54 individuals will be diagnosed with malignant skin cancer in their lifetime, with early signs, including a spot or sore that doesn’t heal, itches or hurts, as well as areas on the skin that have broken down, turned ulcerous, and don’t heal.