The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has now published final guidelines endorsing Merck and Pfizer’s Bavencio as an option for patients with Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC).

Routine NHS funding has been approved for use of the drug in patients in whom the disease has spread to other parts of the body and who have previously been treated with chemotherapy.

Funding through the Cancer Drugs Fund has been recommended for first-line treatment of the disease, to allow for more evidence to be collected to address remaining clinical uncertainties.

Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive cancer with limited treatment options, diagnosed in more than 1,500 people between 1999-2008. Seventy-nine percent died within two years of their diagnosis, highlighting the need for new treatment options to improve prognosis for patients with the disease.

Bavencio (avelumab) is a form of immunotherapy and works by harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system to destroy their cancer cells, approved in September last year as the first and only targeted systemic treatment to be licensed for metastatic MCC.

Data from the Phase II trial JAVELIN Merkel 200 showed durable responses to drug; the proportion of patients who achieved an objective response was 28 (31.8 percent) of 88 patients, including eight complete responses and 20 partial responses.