Yervoy (ipilimumab)

BMS launches skin cancer treatment Yervoy in UK

pharmafile | August 22, 2011 | News story | Sales and Marketing Yervoy, cancer vaccine, ipilimumab, skin cancer 

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s skin cancer treatment Yervoy has been launched in the UK for patients with the deadliest form of the disease.

Yervoy (ipilimumab) is now available in the UK as a second-line treatment for adults with metastatic melanoma, which kills around 2,000 people in the country each year. 

This drug is the first new licensed treatment since the current standard treatment – the chemo drug dacarbazine – was launched in the 1970s.

Yervoy is a highly novel vaccine that works by stimulating an immune response to the melanoma.

Because of its unique mode of action, Yervoy must be administered by four sets of infusion every three weeks, over a three-month course.  

For typical 75kg patient, each infusion costs £18,000, which means a full course of treatment will cost £75,000.

Dr Paul Lorigan, senior lecturer in medical oncology, the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, one of the leading trial centres for Yervoy in the UK, said: “The authorisation of ipilimumab represents a real advance in the treatment of patients with advanced melanoma as this is the first treatment for 30 years in the UK to extend patients’ life expectancy.  

“After years of no progress in the treatment of this terrible illness, we have now made a stride forward.”

In a recent phase III trial of metastatic melanoma patients who had received prior therapy, 46% of patients (63 people out of 137) were still alive at one year in the Yervoy arm versus 25% (34 people out of 136) in the comparator group. This group used a vaccine called gp100, which is being developed by the US government’s National Cancer Institute and is currently in phase II trials.

BMS’ Yervoy may not have the market to itself for long as Roche’s new skin cancer drug Zelboraf, approved last week in the US, is currently awaiting a decision from European regulators on its license application.

Roche’s drug costs $56,400 (£34,236) in the US for a full six-month course and works in a different way to Yervoy by targeting the BRAF V600E mutation, which is present in around half of melanoma patients.

Both BMS and the Swiss major are already conducting early stage trials with both drugs to see if they can be used as a combination therapy.

NICE will hold a first appraisal meeting for Yervoy on 20 September. Its high cost will undoubtedly be an issue for the UK cost-effectiveness body, which has in the past not recommended expensive cancer medicines.

Ben Adams

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