MSD’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) has been approved by the European Commission with a new six-weekly dosing schedule at 400mg, as opposed to the previous schedule of 200mg every three weeks, across all monotherapy indications.

The less frequent dosing gives both patients and oncologists more flexibility, due to less hospital visits which could help chemotherapy nurses and chemotherapy lead consultants by freeing up chair time and infusion suite capacity, and oncology pharmacy by freeing up capacity when infusions are made up in-house.

The humanised monoclonal antibody works by increasing the ability of the body’s immune system to help detect and fight tumour cells.

Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden, said: “This is excellent news for patients and is a significant step forward as it gives much greater flexibility, because it is only necessary to attend hospital every six weeks rather than every three weeks for treatment.

“Hundreds of people across the UK are being treated with Keytruda for melanoma and will need less frequent hospital visits, which is especially important for those patients that travel long distances for their treatment.”

The news is welcome, as the UK oncologist workforce is currently 18% understaffed with clinical oncologists, with the shortage expected to grow to at least 22% by 2023. Vacancies for clinical oncology posts are also now double what they were in 2013, with over half of these posts remaining empty for a year or more.