Skin cancer drugs Ipilimumab and Vemurafenib approved for use in NHS

NHS is offering two new life-extending drugs for patients with advanced skin cancer.

The NHS will make available two breakthrough drugs for skin cancer treatment Ipilimumab and vemurafenib, after a reduction in the drug prices by their makers led to the approval by National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the health watchdog.

To deal with skin cancer melanoma which kills 2,200 a year in Britain, NHS is making available the two life-extending drugs. Skin cancer melanoma is malignant, and if not diagnosed and treated, the sufferers die within a year. Moreover, the prognosis for skin cancer melanoma is also very poor, and those who are diagnosed often have just months to live.

But now with Nice approval, the two drugs Ipilimumab and vemurafenib will be made available across England and Wales for skin cancer treatment. Vemurafenib, marketed as Zelboraf by maker Roche, works in half of the patients who have a particular gene mutation called BRAF V600, which can trigger advanced skin cancer melanoma. The pill has been shown to increase survival on average from 9.6 to 13.2 months, and help patients feel much more energetic.

Vemurafenib has been recommended for the treatment of metastatic melanoma. Ipilimumab, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb, is recommended for the treatment of advanced malignant melanoma in people who have received prior chemotherapy.

The prices of these drugs remain confidential. Nice has handed down its approval for the drugs after the producers presented the cost-effectiveness of the drugs. In its final draft guidance, Nice has recommended the skin cancer treatments on the condition that the manufacturers provide them with a discount.

The drugs, however, have side effects which can be dealt with. Ipilimumab can cause diarrhoea, rash, itchy skin, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain; while vemurafenib can cause secondary skin cancers.

Nonetheless, new hope has been given to patients suffering from skin cancer with the introduction of these drugs.