Powerful New Drugs Capable Of Stalling Skin Cancer Available In England And Wales For First Time

They can halt melanoma by an average of 8 months.

More than 12,000 people have skin cancer in England with melanoma contributing to 1,750 deaths.

However, those deaths may be prevented now that patients in England and Wales are to become the first in Europe to benefit from a powerful combination of drugs.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has approved the combination therapy of Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab) for people with melanoma that has spread around the body.

The drugs are so powerful, they can halt progression of advanced melanoma by an average of eight months compared with standard treatment and have been found to wipe out tumours in around a fifth of patients.

Around 1,300 people could be eligible for the immunotherapy drugs every year, and people with advanced skin cancer currently live less than two years on average.

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Professor Carole Longson, director of the health technology evaluation centre at Nice, said to PA: "After one of the fastest drug appraisals Nice has carried out, these promising new immunotherapy treatments for advanced melanoma look set to significantly extend the life of people with the condition.

"The evidence we examined was very promising and I know further trials are ongoing which have also released encouraging data."

Nice moved quickly on the drug approval after the results of a phase II study into the drugs showed startling results in April.

Of 95 patients given the combined treatment, more than 60% were still alive after two years and, of those, a fifth (22%) had no detectable tumours remaining.

Dr James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital said the immunotherapy drugs - which enable the body's immune system to fight tumours - are "an effective two-pronged attack against the cancer".

PA reported that the drugs are known as "checkpoint inhibitors" and interrupt two different signalling pathways to take the brakes off the immune system.

Each blocks a separate receptor "switch" on immune system T-cells that weakens the immune response and can be activated by molecules released by tumours. Ipilimumab targets a receptor called CTLA-4 while nivolumab targets the PD-1 receptor.

Checkpoint inhibitors can have side effects, including causing diarrhoea and liver damage.

The drugs have also shown a promising effect on other cancers, including advanced lung cancer. Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, and kills 97 people every day on average.

Research presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (Asco) conference last week showed that of 38 patients given the drugs, 47% responded, with more than 83% still alive after a year.

Cancer Research UK has said combining immunotherapy drugs has the potential to benefit thousands of patients with cancer, at all stages of the disease.

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