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Bristol-Myers Squibb launches Opdivo in the UK for lung cancer

Published on 12/08/15 at 09:20am
NICE now has to assess Opdivo before it can become available for patients

The immuno-oncology drug Opdivo is available in the UK for people with lung cancer, after Bristol-Myers Squibb launched the drug in its second indication.

BMS adds lung cancer to advanced melanoma in the list of conditions for which the drug is available, after its launch as a treatment for locally advanced or metastatic squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) preceding chemotherapy in adults.

Opdivo (nivolumab) – along with other immunotherapies – is an important development in treatment for patients with (NSCLC). In trials people treated with Opdivo have shown a significant advantage of survival rates in comparison to the current standard of care, chemotherapy and docetaxel, and up to a one year overall survival rate of 42% - compared to 24% with standard treatment – and a good safety profile. 

Johanna Mercier, general manager of Bristol-Myers Squibb UK & Ireland says: “Bristol-Myers Squibb is pioneering the field of immuno-oncology and we are delighted that nivolumab has been approved for the treatment of advanced squamous lung cancer second line.  The next step will be to ensure that eligible patients in the UK are able to benefit from nivolumab as soon as possible and we are totally committed to continued collaboration with the reimbursement authorities to achieve this.”  

Dr Sanjay Popat, consultant thoracic medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden hospital says: “This group of patients with relapsed squamous-type lung cancer represents a considerable unmet medical need in the UK, as chemotherapy has been their main option until now. Many patients at advanced stages of this disease are unable to tolerate the side effects of chemotherapy and some patients will choose to discontinue treatment.

"The launch of nivolumab is a milestone that changes the treatment landscape from one where existing treatment options have offered modest improvements in survival, to one where lung cancer patients have an additional option which can significantly extend survival.”                 

Opdivo had been available to patients through the MHRA’s Early Access to Medicines Scheme, which provides a vehicle for patients to access promising and innovative drugs that have yet to be granted marketing authorisation. Now it has been launched in the UK it will be withdrawn from the scheme, while the treatment makes its way through the NICE appraisal system.

But Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said patients are now unlikely to be able to have access to Opdivo until May 2016 at the earliest. This will be too late for some, she says. One in three people are still alive one year after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

“This is a significant development for this very specific group of people with lung cancer and offers hope where there was very little before. But although there is a really positive story here, there is also a mess that needs to be sorted out. The pharmaceutical companies want their price and the NHS has its processes, but it’s the patients here who are getting caught in the crossfire.

“To have a drug arrive that can make a significant difference and actually lengthen patients’ life expectancy, but them to not have access to it is a disgrace. These patients don’t have time to waste. We should hang our heads in shame.”

Yasmita Kumar


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