New drug for leukaemia gets go-ahead in Scotland

A ground-breaking new drug that triggers the body's ability to kill leukaemia cells has been approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium.

Hugh Forgie was first diagnosed with CLL after a cycling accident on holiday in Tenerife lead to a blood test which found leukaemia
Hugh Forgie was first diagnosed with CLL after a cycling accident on holiday in Tenerife lead to a blood test which found leukaemia

Around 600 Scots are affected by Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) a cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow, with approximately 168 new cases diagnosed each year.

Now for the first time Venetoclax will be routinely available on the NHS in Scotland for clinicians to prescribe – the first roll out of the drug for general use in the UK.

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In some cases patients on existing failing treatments face survival rates of only a few months compared to Venetoclax which has demonstrated a progression free survival of over two years, with 77.2 per cent of patients trialled responding to the new treatment. The drug works by inhibiting the BCL-2 protein which prevents programmed cell death thus allowing cancerous cells to be destroyed. Seven people in Scotland have already been benefitting from Venetoclax through the early access to review process.

Dr Mike Leach, consultant haematologist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, said: “The SMC approval of Venetoclax is an important decision for patients with difficult-to-treat forms of CLL, particularly in cases where existing treatments have failed and patients have limited options left.

“The data and our clinical experience show that patients respond well to treatment with a number achieving complete remission justifying not only today’s acceptance by the SMC but also its inclusion in the latest treatment guidelines. Today’s positive decision has the potential to make a difference to the lives of this patient population.”

CLL is the most common type of chronic leukaemia, it is more prevalent in people over 60 and is very rare in people under 40. Men are more likely to develop CLL than women, though it is not clear why.

The SMC carried out their patient and clinician engagement (PACE) process for medicines used for rare conditions before deciding to approve Venetoclax.

Alan MacDonald, chairman of the SMC, said: “Through PACE, we heard how Venetoclax can substantially reduce symptoms in CLL patients and give them a better quality of life, so we know this decision will be welcomed.”

Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager, welcomed the SMC decision. He said: “It’s great news that Venetoclax will be made available for some patients in Scotland with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). This decision offers another treatment option for some patients with this devastating disease.

“Venetoclax is a new, targeted treatment for this type of cancer. It blocks the function of a protein found in CLL cells, causing the cells to die. Around 200 people are diagnosed with CLL in Scotland every year.

“Right now, patients in Glasgow are taking part in a Cancer Research UK trial to find out how well Venetoclax and another drug, Ibrutinib, work together to treat this type of leukaemia. The hope is that this could provide a further treatment option for patients with this type of cancer in the future.”

Hugh leads normal life despite CLL

A former athlete who represented Team GB at two world shooting championships and has been living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) for over 15 years welcomed the Scottish Medicines Consortium decision to approve the new drug.

Hugh Forgie, from Abington, South Lanarkshire, was first diagnosed with CLL after a cycling accident on holiday in Tenerife lead to a blood test which found leukaemia.

The 61-year-old has been on Venetolux for six months as part of a trial.

He said: “I think this is a great breakthrough and as far as CLL goes the chemotherapy will be put on the back-burner.”