Hundreds of NHS patients with advanced cervical cancer are set to benefit from better healthcare after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved the first new treatment for the disease in 14 years.
The life-extending treatment comes in the form of the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab, which is already offered by the health service in England to treat breast, bowel, lung and skin cancer.
The new treatment has been made available through the Cancer Drugs Fund and will benefit approximately 400 people over the next three years, according to NHS England.
The treatment is administered via an injection and, in conjunction with chemotherapy, works to stimulate a patient’s immune system by targeting and ultimately blocking a protein called PD-L1 on certain immune cells’ surfaces.
Although NICE has not been able to accurately establish the cost-effectiveness of the drug, initial clinical trial findings have indicated that, under the treatment, a patient’s cancer takes longer to get worse than compared to standard care. It has also suggested that it increases a patient’s life expectancy, though the extent to either has not yet been ascertained.
“Pembrolizumab shows promise as the first effective immunotherapy [against advanced cervical cancer],” NICE’s Director of Medicines Evaluation, Helen Knight said. “However, to ensure the best use of limited public funding, we need additional evidence to fully analyse its clinical and cost effectiveness before it can be considered for routine NHS use.”
Cancer Research UK estimates that, every year in England, around 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer with the most affected group being 30-34-year-olds. This leads to nearly 700 people dying a year from the disease in England, according to the NHS.
NHS England’s Director of Specialised Commissioning, John Stewart, described the move as a “significant step forward” whilst Health Minister Helen Whately said the news was a “win for women”.