Breakthrough skin cancer pill Zelboraf goes on sale for the first time in Britain today, but still needs approval from NICE before being prescribed on the NHS.
Vemurafenib, marketed by drugs firm Roche as Zelboraf, has been shown to double the survival time of patients with advanced skin cancer, after decades without a major medical advance in this field.
Breakthrough skin cancer pill is now on sale in Britain
European approval means that the breakthrough drug should be available for patients with full cancer cover on their private medical insurance policy, although prior approval from their insurer is recommended.
However, in England Zelboraf will have to be assessed by watchdog NICE before it becomes available on the NHS. Until then, patients will have to apply to get the drug through the Cancer Drug's Fund or on their private medical insurance.
Swansea oncologist Professor John Wagstaff says he fears Welsh skin cancer sufferers could miss out on the revolutionary £1,700 a week drug Zelboraf (vemurafenib) as there is no Cancer Drugs Fund in place in Wales.
Malignant melanoma is an aggressive and dangerous skin cancer, believed to be caused by over-exposure to the sun or sunbeds. For those whose tumours spread to other organs, only half survive longer than six months.
However, a large international study showed that Zelboraf boosted the proportion surviving to six months to 84 per cent. Another smaller study found that patients treated with Zelboraf had a median survival of 16 months.
Not only could the twice daily pill increase survival by as much as 8 to 10 months, but it also reduces pain and gives patients back their energy.
Zelboraf only works in about half of advanced skin cancer patients, in those whose melanomas have a mutated form of the BRAF gene called V600. The drug works by turning this mutation off and retarding cancerous cells.
A small minority of patients have even exhibited a ‘complete response’, when physical tumours can no longer be seen on CT scans.
Cally Palmer, chief executive of The Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: "This is an important and significant step forward for the treatment of patients with advanced melanoma."
From today, Zelboraf is approved for sale across Europe by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
One of the main benefits of private medical insurance is having access to licensed drugs like Zelboraf on your policy before they become available for use on the NHS, so compare health insurance quotes online now.
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