Ovarian cancer drug approved for use on Scottish NHS

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Campaigners have secured a major victory as a front-line treatment which can lengthen the life of women with incurable ovarian cancer will be available in Scotland.

Bevacizumab, also known as Avastin, was accepted by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) yesterday for use on the NHS among patients whose disease is at an advance stage.

Studies have indicated the treatment can extend the lives of terminal patients by more than four months.

The drug was rejected in January for being too expensive but patients and doctors lobbied the SMC to reconsider their decision as Avastin is the first new medicine developed for these women in 10 years.

It follows the SMC’s decision to approve Avastin in September for a small group of women with recurrent ovarian cancer that is resistant to a form of chemotherapy.

Annwen Jones, chief executive for Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “This is extremely good news for women with advanced ovarian cancer living in Scotland, as it means that Avastin is now available as a treatment option.

“With the help of our committed supporters, Target Ovarian Cancer put together a case that the SMC and the drug company could not ignore; it is encouraging to see the positive impact of this work.”

Scotland is the first of the UK nations to approve the innovative drug for these patients, which works by starving tumours of their blood supply.

Ms Jones added: “We firmly believe that every woman with ovarian cancer should have access to life prolonging drugs, no matter where they live in the UK, and we will continue to fight for fair access to drugs.”

More than 600 Scottish women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. In 2011, ovarian cancer was the sixth most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, representing nearly 4 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers in Scotland.

Ovarian cancer is traditionally associated with a poor prognosis, few therapeutic options and the possibility of relapse or death after treatment.

Professor Nick Reed, consultant clinical oncologist at the Beatson Oncology Centre, in Glasgow, said: “This approval has been much anticipated for patients and clinicians in Scotland.

“Ovarian cancer is a relapsing and remitting disease and, in its advanced form, is associated with a poor quality of life and outlook.

“Avastin, when given as a front-line treatment, can help to delay the recurrence of the cancer and marks a much needed significant step forward in the treatment of ovarian cancer in Scotland.

“It’s encouraging to see that the PACE process has allowed Scottish patients to access this treatment on the NHS.”

The decision was welcomed by patients, who warned more needs to be done to ensure women do not suffer a postcode lottery over treatments.

Christine Mitchell, from Ardross, Highland, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November 2013, said: “It is really positive news that more women with ovarian cancer in Scotland are going to be able to access Avastin.

“All women should be able to access the best healthcare and have the best chance of surviving ovarian cancer.”

A promising skin cancer drug called Pembrolizumab, or Keytruda, was also accepted for the treatment of melanoma in adults who have not been treated with another medicine called ipilmumab already.

The immunotherapy drug, which was approved for use in England in September, has been hailed by doctors for reducing tumour size by up to a third in some patients.

The SMC also accepted an anti-blood clotting treatmetnd called edoxaban to treat deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

It approved edoxaban’s use for stroke prevention in patients with an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation.

Professor Jonathan Fox, chair of SMC, said: “I am pleased the Committee has been able to accept these new medicines.

“Treatment options for ovarian cancer and advanced melanoma in particular are quite limited at present, so it is particularly pleasing to be able to accept both bevacizumab for ovarian cancer and pembrolizumab for advanced melanoma in patients not yet treated with ipilimumab.

“We know from the testimonies given by patient groups through both the PACE process and patient group submissions that patients and clinicians will welcome these medicines being made routinely available in NHS Scotland.”