Life-extending lung cancer drug approved for use in Scotland

Scotland has become the first part of the UK to approve a new life-extending treatment for the most common form of advanced lung cancer for use on the NHS.

The new drug, nivolumab will lengthen the lives of patients battling lung cancer. Picture: PA

Rates of lung cancer in Scotland are among the highest in the world and the new treatment helps patients live longer and have a better quality of life.

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) approved the new drug, nivolumab, also known as Opdivo, for use in patients with non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer.

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Officials said it can extend the typical eight-month life expectancy by three months.

Figures from 2014 show around 5,300 people in Scotland were diagnosed with lung cancer and 4,100 died from the disease - more than breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined.

The consortium also approved four other new medicines, including a lenvatinib, also known as Lenvima, for advanced thyroid cancer which can improve survival and increase quality of life.

The other approved drugs are Aflibercept (Eylea) to help slow a severe type of visual impairment which can lead to loss of sight; Budesonide (Cortiment) as an alternative treatment for ulcerative colitis; and progesterone (Lutigest), which supports infertility treatment.

SMC chairman Professor Jonathan Fox said he is “pleased” the committee could accept all five medicines.

He added that the new cancer treatments “may offer patients improved survival with a better quality of life”.

Pharmaceutical firm Bristol-Myers Squibb is now urging the authorities in the rest of the UK to follow the SMC and approve nivolumab treatment.

Benjamin Hickey, the company’s general manager for the UK and Ireland, said: “We are very happy for advanced lung cancer patients in Scotland who will now have the option of treatment with nivolumab on the NHS.

“The SMC has recognised that lung cancer patients are in urgent need of a new treatment option that has the potential to help them live longer and give them more time with their families.

“However, because the Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) process has been ongoing for many months, NHS patients in England, Northern Ireland and Wales face the desperately unfair situation of not having the same access to nivolumab treatment as those across the border in Scotland.

“We are exploring all possible options in order to resolve this disparity as soon as possible.”