NICE has given a green light for use of MSD’s Keytruda on the NHS to treat some patients with melanoma, with funding to come from the Cancer Drugs Fund.

The guidelines apply to adults who have disease that has spread to the lymph nodes and who have already had surgery to remove the tumour and associated lymph glands.

Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is a type of immunotherapy that works by boosting the body's natural defences to fight cancer. In this setting, it is used to remove any cancer left behind after surgery.

According to NICE, clinical evidence suggests Keytruda is likely to extend the time people remain cancer free, with nearly three-quarters of people having no recurrence of the disease at 18 months compared to just over half of the people who were given a placebo.

However, the long-term benefit is unclear because the trial is ongoing, and data on overall survival and how long people might live without the cancer spreading to other parts of the body is also limited, which means cost effectiveness estimates “are very uncertain,” the Institute noted.

“There are currently no adjuvant immunotherapies recommended by NICE for people who have had surgery to remove their melanoma, a disease which even after surgical removal, has a high risk of recurrence,” commented Meindert Boysen, director for NICE’s Centre for Health Technology Evaluation.

Keytruda is yet to receive European approval in this setting, but it is anticipated that the drug will be authorized early next month.

“With support from the company, and NHS England, we will be able to publish final guidance almost at the same time as the license for this indication is granted,” Boyson noted.

“It highlights the speed at which NICE is able to evaluate important new treatment options so they can be offered to patients as quickly as possible.”