14th Oct 2016

Compelling case to make new immunotherapy drug available now


It was good news this week that a revolutionary new drug for the treatment of advanced head and neck cancer has been hailed as a “game-changer”.

Nivolumab was found to extend the lives of relapsed patients diagnosed with head and neck cancers who had run out of therapy options.

Advanced cases that are resistant to chemotherapy are notoriously difficult to treat.

The positive findings about the phase-three study of the immunotherapy drug were reported to the European Society for Medical Oncology (Esmo) in Copenhagen.

Nivolumab is one of the most exciting new developments in the treatment of head and neck cancer for many years. It is one of a new class of antibody drugs called checkpoint inhibitors that help the immune system to fight cancer. It then works by blocking signals from tumour cells that stop the immune system from working.

The drug has already been licensed for the treatment of advanced skin cancer and non small-cell lung cancer in the UK. However while the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice)has backed its use for melanoma it is still considering whether to recommend making the drug freely available to other patients.

I was one of a number of international experts who conducted the phase-three trial involving a total of 361 patients which showed a significant increase in survival rates.

The hope now is that regulators will not delay in getting this new drug to those patients who otherwise have no effective treatment options open to them. At present Nice are saying they expect to give their recommendation in May next year but with such a clear case of the positive outcomes of this therapy, let’s hope they can bring that forward so patients benefit now.

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