London: A skin cancer drug dubbed “wonderpill” dramatically increases the time patients with the most aggressive form of the disease can live.
The drug Vemurafenib, hailed the biggest breakthrough in skin cancer for 30 years, now been licensed for use in the UK after a review by the EU Commission.
Patients with terminally advanced melanoma have seen their quality of life dramatically improved in trials and their survival prolonged by months, if not more than a year, the Daily Express reported.
Vemurafenib, developed by Roche, is a twice-daily smart pill that targets the activity of a rogue gene, which is present in half of malignant melanomas.
Patients in trials lived an average three-and-a-half months longer than those given standard chemotherapy.
Drugs regulator the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is expected to rule if the treatment should be offered on the NHS later this year.
In the meantime, patients can apply for it via the Cancer Drugs Fund or as an individual funding request from their local primary care trust.
Vemurafenib works by targeting a faulty gene present in half of patients with inoperable skin cancer.
Every year more than 2,000 people, many of them young, die from the disease. Over the past 30 years the incidence of malignant melanoma has quadrupled and it is now the most common cancer in women aged 15-24.
Until now, the only treatment option was highly toxic chemo- therapy.
Clinical trials of vemurafenib, marketed as Zelboraf, were led in the UK by the Royal Marsden Hospital and saw patients living an average of 13.2 months longer compared with 9.6 months for patients receiving chemotherapy.
“The arrival of a new, effective drug to help advanced melanoma patients is very welcome news, especially given that Cancer Research UK helped fund the basic lab work that led to its development,” said Sarah Woolnough, director of policy at Cancer Research UK.
“We are now looking for Roche to price this drug sensibly so that the NHS can afford to make it available to all who need it,” she stated.
Richard Marais, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the Institute of Cancer Research, added: “The availability of an effective pill will provide clear life-style benefits to patients.”