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Drug treatment for advanced skin cancer – SHTAC is informing new NICE guidance

Published: 18 February 2016
New drugs for advanced melanoma
Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK

SHTAC’s research is informing the production of National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance on the drug nivolumab and for the drug combination cobimetinib and vemurafenib in treating advanced melanoma.

Melanoma is a cancer of the skin. In its early stages, melanoma does not always show symptoms and can often be cured by surgical resection (removal of the lesion). However, at presentation in around 10% of people melanomas will have spread to nearby lymph nodes (stage III- advanced melanoma) or to other parts of the body (stage IV – metastatic melanoma). It occurs more commonly in fair-skinned people and there is strong association with ultra violet exposure. Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK with around 13,000 new cases diagnosed each year. More than one-third of people diagnosed with melanoma are aged less than 55 years.

The management of advanced melanoma is rapidly evolving, with a number of new drug treatments becoming available in recent years. One such drug is nivolumab (brand name ‘Opdivo’ ®, Bristol-Myers Squibb). Commonly referred to as cancer immunology, or immuno-oncology, this type of treatment uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.

NICE have recently issued guidance to the NHS in England recommending the use of nivolumab within its marketing authorisation, as an option for treating advanced (unresectable or metastatic) melanoma in adults. NICE’s guidance is informed by an evidence review group report prepared by SHTAC, which critically appraised the drug company’s evidence submission to NICE’s Single Technology Appraisal process.

SHTAC is also currently investigating a new treatment for advanced melanoma, a combination of the drug cobimetinib (brand name ‘Cotellic’, Roche) and the drug vemurafenib (brand name ‘Zelboraf’, Roche). This combination is specifically for use in patients with the BRAF V600 melanoma mutation. This mutation is found in about 50% of melanomas, and leads to accelerated growth of the tumour. The aim of this combination therapy is to slow the growth and spread of the cancer. SHTAC is assessing the drug company’s evidence submission to NICE, with NICE guidance expected to be issued to the NHS in October 2016.

For more information about SHTAC’s cancer research, please see our research page.

You can also find out more about the University of Southampton’s Centre for Cancer Immunology by visiting the ‘You’re It’ website.

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