Scotland has become the the first part of the UK to make a new treatment for women with advanced cervical cancer available on the NHS.
The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has approved the use of the drug pembrolizumab – which is also known as Keytruda – to treat those patients with persistent or recurrent cervical cancer, or in cases where the disease has spread.
Campaigners have hailed the decision as giving “new options, hope and most importantly time to those living with advanced cervical cancer”.
Approval was granted after the drug was considered as part of the SMC’s Patient and Clinician Engagement (Pace) process, which is used for medicines designed to treat rare conditions or help patients at the end of their life.
Stuart Robertson, head of devolved nations at MSD UK said: “Advanced cervical cancer is an incurable disease, associated with significant morbidity, which is a painful diagnosis for patients.
“There are more diagnoses of advanced cervical cancer in areas of high deprivation and amongst people of working age.
“Until now there have been limited treatment options for these patients, creating a high unmet need.
“MSD is delighted that the Scottish Medicines Consortium will now enable patients in Scotland to access a new treatment option and, most importantly, may help patients to spend more time with their loved ones.”
Around 3,200 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK, with the disease leading to the deaths of about 800 women a year.
“It is a much-overlooked area and so we are delighted that pembrolizumab has been approved for use in Scotland.
“It will give new options, hope and most importantly time to those living with advanced cervical cancer.
“Too frequently we hear from women having to fight for access to new treatments, with their options affected by where they live and sadly sometimes their wealth.
“We hope to see other UK nations follow and end the postcode lottery of care for advanced cervical cancer.”
Pembrolizumab is currently used across the UK to treat other forms of cancer, with a decision expected soon from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) on whether its use can be extended to cervical cancer patients in England.
The drug was one of two new cancer treatments approved by the SMC, with the green light also given for nivolumab – also known as Optivo – which is used to treat patients with a form of bladder cancer.
It too was accepted for use on the NHS after being considered through the Pace process.
Meanwhile, the SMC has agreed to make a new treatment available for the next three years for adults with the rare genetic condition X-linked hypophosphataemia.
This can cause bone fractures, early osteoarthritis, dental problems and an increased risk of osteoporosis in sufferers, with the drug burosumab – which is also known as Crysvita – being approved as part of a process for new treatments for extremely rare conditions.
As it has a “very high” cost it will be available for the next three years, allowing the SMC to obtain “greater clarity” about its benefits.
Speaking about the decisions, SMC chairman Mark MacGregor said: “We are pleased to be able to accept pembrolizumab for the treatment of cervical cancer and nivolumab for bladder cancer.
“The committee is aware that delaying progression of the disease for as long as possible is very valuable to patients and families.”
He added: “Adults will now gain access to burosumab while the company gathers additional evidence to inform a decision in three years.
“X-linked hypophosphataemia is a chronic and severely debilitating condition that causes pain and fatigue and is life-limiting for patients.
“The costs of burosumab are very high relative to the identified benefits and this additional time will give the company the opportunity to provide greater certainty around the benefits for patients.”