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Pembrolizumab now available in England through the Cancer Drugs Fund

Posted on: Wednesday, 29th March 2023 by Kate Sanger, Head of Communications & Public Affairs

Today, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has announced it has recommended the use of pembrolizumab (Keytruda), within the Cancer Drugs Fund to treat some patients with advanced cervical cancer. The announcement follows a decision by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) in February which approved it for use in Scotland. We are delighted by the news which represents a big step forward for those living with advanced cancer. It offers invaluable hope, options and, most importantly, time. 

Jo’s has been calling for pembrolizumab to be available across the UK and have been providing the patient voice to NICE as part of their appraisal process, sharing stories of women living with advanced cancer who have benefitted from pembrolizumab or who have been trying to access it.  

Read one of their stories >   

Thank you to all the women who spoke with us and shared their experiences. You helped us present just how important new treatments are for women with advanced cervical cancer, a group who have been overlooked for far too long.  Thanks to you, a lifeline treatment has been approved. 

Who can have pembrolizumab?  

Pembrolizumab has been recommended for treating persistent, recurrent, or metastatic cervical cancer in adults whose tumours express PD‑L1 with a combined positive score (CPS) of at least 1. 

Pembrolizumab targets a protein called PD-1 on T cells, which are part of the immune system. PD-1 can join up with another protein, PD-L1, which can be found on cancer cells. In this way, pembrolizumab helps the immune system destroy the cancer cells. It is given alongside chemotherapy (paclitaxel and either cisplatin or carboplatin) and may also be given alongside Avastin. Find out more > 

How effective is pembrolizumab?  

Pembrolizumab is a type of targeted treatment called a monoclonal antibody that is already in use on the NHS to treat several different types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer or advanced triple negative breast cancer. It has provided hope for many cancer patients and is now available outside of a clinical trial or private health care in England for the first time.  

Targeted drugs are important in cancer treatment because they target specific proteins that help cancer cells grow. The drugs can disrupt this process without impacting the function of other cells so, although they have some side effects, people tend to do well on them.    

The phase 3 trial (KEYNOTE-826) found patients who received pembrolizumab alongside chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab (Avastin) had longer before their disease progressed than those who only received chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab (Avastin). Overall survival was also longer for patients in the pembrolizumab group 

What is the Cancer Drugs Fund? 

The Cancer Drugs Fund helps patients access promising treatments which have not yet been approved by NICE for routine use in the NHS.  Data from clinical trials with pembrolizumab have not yet been able to provide NICE with the full information it needs about the longer-term impact of the treatment, this is why it is available for free through the CDF while trial data continues to be collected. Before today, access to this treatment has been through clinical trials or health insurance, so this represents a significant step forward in increasing equity and options.  

How can I access pembrolizumab?  

Until now, the only targeted treatment for advanced cervical cancer has been bevacizumab (Avastin) so we’re delighted that in England and Scotland there is now another option available. We hope that availability is swiftly moved forward in Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Your oncology team will advise you on the most appropriate treatment for you. 

If you want to support for living with cervical cancer, our Helpline is here for you on 0808 802 8000 >