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12 Jul 2017

SMC says ‘yes’ to Opdivo for blood cancer patients

Patients in Scotland will now join those in England and Wales and be able to benefit from this potentially life-extending immunotherapy on the NHS.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has announced that NHS patients in Scotland who have an aggressive blood cancer are now able to access the potentially life-extending immunotherapy medicine, nivolumab. The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) recommended its use for adult patients with classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) whose cancer is progressing despite prior autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) and treatment with brentuximab vedotin (BV). Despite this being a group of severely ill patients, who have few options left beyond palliative care, treatment with nivolumab has shown to result in both considerable cancer reduction and complete response in some people, where no recognisable sign of cancer remained. The decision marks the fourth cancer type for which the SMC has recommended nivolumab treatment, demonstrating its potential as a breakthrough medicine for many cancer patients in Scotland.

Dr Pam McKay, Consultant Haematologist, Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, commented: “Today’s decision is great news for patients and marks a significant step forward in the treatment of cHL in Scotland. In patients whose cancer has returned or worsened on current treatments, previously many would have faced palliative care, now these patients have a much-needed treatment option which may help to improve survival. We’re pleased that the SMC has recommended nivolumab as it gives us an effective treatment option that we hope will allow us to improve outcomes for patients and their families.”

Nivolumab has an innovative mode of action that works by harnessing the ability of the immune system to fight cancer. In a single-arm, Phase II clinical trial, as well as the considerable cancer reduction seen in over two-thirds of patients, measured as objective response rate, 95% of patients treated with nivolumab were alive one year after treatment. In addition, 8% of these patients saw a complete response (CR), where no recognisable sign of cancer remained. Response rates were durable with a median duration of response of 13.1 months. The trial also showed that nivolumab had an acceptable safety profile with grade 3/4 drug-related adverse events occurring in 29% of patients, the most common were increased lipase (8%), neutropenia (5%), and increased aspartate aminotransferase (4%).

Jonathan Pearce, Chief Executive of the Lymphoma Association, said: “We are delighted to learn that the SMC has recommended nivolumab for routine use within the NHS in Scotland. The decision will be a great relief to those Hodgkin lymphoma patients, many of whom are from a younger population, and without access to this treatment would have faced palliative care. It is vital that innovative treatments are being developed and made available to lymphoma patients. We want everyone affected by lymphoma to receive the best possible treatment and care, and the more options there are to improve outcomes and quality of life for patients, the better.”

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