The NHS now has three months to ensure that Novartis’ combination therapy dabrafenib/trametinib is routinely available to eligible skin cancer patients, after cost regulators published guidance backing funds for the treatment.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended the combination for use in patients with stage III BRAF V600 mutation-positive melanoma who have disease that has spread to lymph vessels, or lymph glands close to the melanoma and who have already had surgery to remove the tumour and associated lymph glands.

To date, this patient group had almost no other treatment options following surgery, aside from radiotherapy in some circumstances, but in over half of cases the cancer recurs, increasing the risk of progressing to the most advanced and incurable stage of the disease.

The aim of Novartis’ adjuvant therapy is to remove any residual cancer left behind to prevent recurrence, and clinical trial results show that patients taking dabrafenib (marketed as Tafinlar) plus trametinib (Mekinst) had higher rates of relapse-free survival (88% at 1 year, 67% at 2 years, and 58% at 3 years) compared with patients taking the placebo (56% at 1 year, 44% at 2 years, and 39% at 3 years).

Earlier this year, Gill Nuttall, chief executive of Melanoma UK, said the availability of this treatment “is a huge step forward for the hundreds of BRAF-positive patients who are currently left with very few options following surgery.

“The current ‘watch and wait’ approach is an extremely worrying and stressful time for patients and their families,” she stressed.

Novartis estimates that around 427 people will be eligible for this treatment, which was recently approved in both the US and