Armed forces veterans and people who were exposed to asbestos could benefit from the therapy

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published final draft guidance recommending a potentially life-extending treatment for a rare form of lung cancer.

Around 2,000 people in England have pleural mesothelioma and it is estimated that over 600 people – including armed forces veterans and people who were previously exposed to asbestos before it was banned in 1999 – could benefit from the new treatment.

Opdivo – also known as nivolumab – in combination with Yervoy – known generically as ipilimumab – has been recommended in NICE’s draft final appraisal document as a first-line treatment option for untreated, unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma in adults. Both treatments are made by Bristol Myers Squibb.

Clinical trial evidence suggests that Opdivo plus Yervoy extends how long people live compared with chemotherapy – which is the current standard first-line treatment. Trial results show that on average people having the combination treatment survive for four months longer compared with those undergoing chemotherapy.

Opdivo and Yervoy are intravenous therapy which take around 30 minutes to be administered every three weeks for Opdivo, and 30 minutes every six weeks for Yervoy. Treatment continues for up to 24 months or until the disease progresses.

Confidential price discount patient access schemes have been agreed between NHS England and the company to make Opdivo and Yervoy available.

This rare and aggressive form of cancer develops in the pleura – the thin membrane that lines the lungs and chest cavity, while most cases are linked to occupational exposure to asbestos. The cancer typically presents 20 to 50 years after exposure and progresses quickly. It currently has a poor prognosis, with 8-10% of patients surviving three years after diagnosis.