Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blockbuster melanoma drug Opdivo has become the first approved PD-L1 inhibitor to launch in the UK.

The PD-L1 class of drugs have been among the first widely available treatments in the promising area of immunotherapy. These medicines harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Opdivo (nivolumab) became the first PD-L1 inhibitor approved in the EU in June, having previously been accepted onto the UK’s Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS).

However, rival melanoma immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab), from Merck, has been available on the scheme since March and beat Opdivo to approval in the US.

The two have been close competitors in markets across the world so far. However, Opdivo may soon edge ahead after data presented at ASCO 2015 showed that combining it with BMS’ other PD-L1 inhibitor Yervoy (ipilimumab) led to tumour shrinkage rates of 58 percent.

John Wagstaff, consultant oncologist at South West Wales Cancer Institute and Swansea College of Medicine, says: “Immunotherapies such as Opdivio are becoming a core part of our treatment armory and we are seeing more and more patients with significant survival improvement using these medicines.

“What is particularly encouraging is that, in some patients, this survival can extend to months or even years. Our hope for the future is to make this the case for more people as this field progresses.”