English Drugs Body Recommends Life-Saving Cancer Medicine

More patients with a rare form of breast cancer will receive a potentially life-saving cancer drug under new guidelines published by a health agency in England.

Made by MSD, the drug — pembrolizumab — can help shrink “triple-negative” tumors. They occur in approximately 15% of breast cancer cases, but are difficult to treat, according to the BBC.

Commercially known as Keytruda, the drug is an immunotherapy that is usually given alongside chemotherapy.

Although it was previously used in the country to prolong the lives of women with some forms of terminal breast cancer, a recommendation from England’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) means it will now be offered to patients with earlier disease.

NICE is the public body that assesses whether medicines and medical devices offer good value for money. The publication of this new guidance means that the country’s public health body, NHS England, should fund the drug for eligible patients.

With further review underway, pembrolizumab may soon be available to more patients.

NICE’s interim director of drug evaluation, Helen Knight, said in a statement: “Triple-negative breast cancer has a relatively poor prognosis and there are few effective treatments compared to other types of disease.

“Today’s draft guidance means we have now recommended 3 new treatments for routine use in the NHS from June, helping to address this unmet need and giving hope of a longer and better quality of life to thousands of people.”

Campaigners called the decision “fantastic” and said it would help around 1,600 people with primary triple-negative breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Now chief executive Baroness Delith Morgan said in a statement: “This less common but often more aggressive type of breast cancer is more common in women with the inherited BRCA gene, women under 40 and black women and at risk of being triple negative. Breast cancer that comes back and spreads to other parts of the body in the first few years after treatment is higher than for other types of breast cancer.

Relatively few options have historically been available to these patients, she added. Increased access to pembrolizumab could mean not only that fewer people will require invasive surgery and breast removal, but more people could now survive “this devastating disease,” she said.

“This treatment now urgently needs to be assessed by the Scottish Medicines Consortium so that even more women across the UK have the opportunity to benefit from it,” she added.

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