1,500 people set to receive new skin cancer treatment that reduces the risk of it returning

An estimated 1,500 people aged 12 years and over with melanoma are set to benefit from MSD’s –  known as Merck & Co in the US and Canada – pembrolizumab (Keytruda), which reduces the chance of it returning, following guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

This is the first adjuvant treatment recommended by (NICE) for this stage of melanoma (2B and 2C) following surgery to remove the tumours. Stage 2 melanoma is defined as having deeply penetrating tumours that have not spread to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.

An adjuvant treatment works to remove any residual microscopic disease after surgery to reduce the risk of relapse or of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Currently, routine follow-up to monitor for signs of recurrence rather than any form of prevention of further tumours, is the standard care.

Melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It develops from melanocytes and pembrolizumab is an immunotherapy treatment which helps the body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells.

Clinical evidence shows that pembrolizumab increases the length of time before the cancer returns compared with routine follow-up.

Helen Knight, interim director of medicines evaluation at NICE, reflected: “Having a medicine that can mop up any residual cancer cells after surgery is really important as it significantly reduces the risk of the cancer returning.

"We have worked at pace to review the evidence for pembrolizumab and I am delighted we have been able to recommend it and enable people to access this transformational care.”

Minister of state for health, Will Quince, concluded: “We are constantly looking for new and innovative cancer treatments as part of our fight against the disease – and the approval of this new drug will benefit hundreds of patients.

“It means people recovering from skin cancer will have a much lower risk of their cancer returning, helping them to lead longer and healthier lives.”

Blake Dark, NHS commercial medicines director, added: “Working closely with NICE, the deal NHS England agreed with MSD for this new treatment option will give 1,500 melanoma patients in England who have already had surgery a better long-term chance of being cancer-free and follows the 100th treatment fast-tracked to patients through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Pembrolizumab was recommended by NICE as an adjuvant treatment for resected stage 3 melanoma in February 2022.