The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immunotherapy drug Opdivo (nivolumab) for NHS use through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) for the treatment of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

The treatment works by targeting a protein known as PD-L1 on the surface of cells.

PD-L1 is involved in the body’s immune response to cancer and nivolumab demonstrates better effectiveness in patients who have more PD-L1 protein on their cancer cells.

After the first review, NICE found the evidence not to be strong enough to recommend the therapy for routine use to treat lung cancer patients in England.

As the medicine appeared to be more effective in some patients, the organisation asked Bristol-Myers Squibb to make the treatment available with a discount while carrying out the clinical trials.

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NICE Centre for Health technology evaluation director Carole Longson said: “We know that nivolumab is clinically effective for some people with lung cancer but the full extent of its benefit is not clear.

"This new deal means that we can give patients access to what we know is a promising treatment whilst more evidence is gathered on its value."

“This new deal means that we can give patients access to what we know is a promising treatment whilst more evidence is gathered on its value.”

With the NICE recommendation, nivolumab will be immediately available to some NSCLC patients who have already been treated with chemotherapy.

The drug can be administered intravenously after every two weeks. The treatment costs depend on the patient’s weight and the type of lung cancer.

In Wales, the therapy will also be available to patients under separate arrangements that will see the drug funded within two months.

Image: Micrograph of a squamous carcinoma, a type of non-small-cell lung carcinoma. Photo: courtesy of Nephron.