Drug licensed for advanced rare skin cancer

woman having radiotherapy
Image caption Radiotherapy and surgery are the currently the only treatment options

Cancer experts have welcomed a move that makes a drug for patients with advanced skin cancer available in the UK.

Regulators have licensed Erivedge (vismodegib) for people with severe basal skin carcinoma.

Currently, treatment is limited to surgery or radiotherapy.

Cancer Research UK, whose scientists discovered the mechanisms the drug uses, said the decision was "great news for patients".

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer in the UK and is often found on the head and neck.

Around 700 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with an advanced form of the cancer - a small number, but cancer experts say the lack of treatment options currently available is what makes this change significant.

Many will have already had surgery and radiotherapy, and it is often considered inappropriate for them to have further procedures

Erivedge, made by Roche, had to be licensed by the European Medicines Agency before it could be made available in the UK.

The drug, which patients take once a day, costs around £6,000 per month.

Clinicians who want to give it to their patients will have to apply to the Cancer Drugs Fund in England.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, doctors would have to ask their local health provider to fund the drug.

Hedgehog pathway

The drug works by blocking a process in the body that has gone awry.

The hedgehog pathway is a chemical process that is normally only active in the early stages of life and which becomes less so in adulthood.

The reactivation of this process is responsible for cell growth in more than 90% of basal cell carcinoma cases.

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "We are proud to have played a key role in the early development of this drug and we're delighted that it has passed this regulatory hurdle and is approved for use in the UK.

"This drug is a major advance for the treatment of this disease, providing advanced basal cell carcinoma patients with a new treatment option.

"This is great news for patients."

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