There’s hope for patients with advanced melanoma

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In patients with advanced skin cancer, the drug Opdivo nearly doubles the chances of survival. The European Medicines Agency has issued a positive opinion to bring it to market, though it has a high price tag.

Every year, nearly 2500 Belgians are told they have melanoma. If the tumor has spread or surgery is impossible, the prognosis is bad. Each year between 320 and 330 Belgians die from melanoma. But there is hope. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has issued a positive opinion for Opdivo, a new drug from the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (Braine-l’Alleud). It spectacularly increases the survival of patients with advanced melanoma.

A clinical study with patients who have advanced melanoma, shows that 73 percent of those receiving Opdivo are still alive after one year. In the control group, who received standard chemotherapy, only 42 percent survived. A second study with patients that have previously been treated for their cancer, points in the same direction. In nearly a third of the patients who received Opdivo, positive results are seen. In contrast, in the group that was treated with chemotherapy, only 11 percent of the patients responded to the therapy.

Opdivo is the first of a whole new class of drugs based on immunotherapy. Thanks to the positive opinion of EMA on Opdivo, the European Commission will most likely allow Opdivo on the market by the end of June. However, the drug is extremely pricey. In the US, treatment takes not less than 12.500 dollars per month or 150.000 dollars per year. Before patients will obtain Opdivo in Belgian hospitals, the government still has to decide on the reimbursement of the drug.

Health Minister Maggie De Block (Open VLD) announced through her spokesman that she applauds innovative medicines, however, they should be cost-effective. The costs must commensurate with the value for patient. According to Jean-Jacques Cassiman, President of Fight against Cancer, it is impossible to deny a drug that strongly improves survival to patients.  Negotiations in cooperation with other European countries should lower the price.

(Source: De Standaard)