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Breakthrough skin cancer pill available in Britain

14th March 2012

A pill that can significantly increase the length of time patients with advanced skin cancer can survive has gone on sale in Britain.

Vemurafenib can double the length of time patients can survive and oncologists say it will transform the treatment of advanced malignant melanoma.

There has been little medical advance in this area for many years but one trial showed the twice-daily pill, marketed by drugs firm Roche as Zelboraf, could increase survival among those whose skin cancer had spread to other organs by as much as eight to 10 months.

In addition, patients feel better, experience less pain and have more energy.

Dr Paul Nathan, a consultant medical oncologist at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Middlesex, said he had seen major improvements in patients involved in trials.

“This drug is a massive difference in what we have had before. We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

A large international trial showed vemurafenib boosted the proportion surviving to six months to 84%, while another smaller study found median survival of 16 months.

Every year in the UK more than 11,000 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma and while most tumours are removed before the cancer spreads, the prognosis is often poor for patient who do not have them removed and currently only half survive longer than six months.

Vemurafenib has been approved for sale across Europe by the European Medicines Agency though in England the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) will assess it before it becomes available for NHS prescription.

 

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