UK patients with a certain type of skin cancer can now get access to Roche's once-daily pill Erivedge following its launch in the country.

Erivedge (vismodegib) is the first medicine available in the UK for the treatment of patients with symptomatic metastatic basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or locally advanced BCC that is unsuitable for surgery or radiotherapy.

The drug won conditional approval in Europe last month on the back of clinical data showing that it substantially reduced tumour size.

The move was based on findings from the Phase II Erivance study, which showed that the drug substantially shrank lesions in 43% of patients with locally advanced BCC and 30% with metastatic BCC, with a median duration of response of 7.6 months.

On the downside, at more than £6,000 for a 28-day supply the drug does not come cheap, and troublesome side effects include loss of taste, muscle cramps, hair loss, and weight loss.

Nevertheless, the fact that the drug was granted conditional approval means that regulators believe that its potential benefits outweigh the risks, and that its availability will address an unmet medical need.

Professor Ruth Plummer, a Cancer Research UK clinician involved in some of the early trials of the drug, said Erivedge will be a "lifeline" to patients unable to have surgery or radiotherapy, as BCC can have a "huge impact" on quality of life.

Erivedge is listed on the national Cancer Drugs Fund in England, which provides an extra £200 million each year to enable patients with cancer in the country to access drugs not routinely funded by their local NHS.