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New early access system makes promising Merck cancer drug available in the UK

Scientists have noted that the body’s own immune system is among the best anti-cancer systems available. In fact, the immune system has been an intense focus in the effort to develop effective personalized cancer medicine. Now a new Merck drug that has shown promise in boosting the immune system to resist melanoma has become available to patients in the UK under a new early access scheme.

The new drug is called pembrolizumab and is marketed under the trade name Keytruda. Keytruda was accepted under guidelines in the early access scheme because of the drug’s significant positive effects in early trials and because it addresses a gap in melanoma therapeutics. Back in October 2014, Keytruda was given the designation of “promising innovative medicine” in Britain. Keytruda may now be given to adults and children age 12 years and older with advanced melanoma.

Melanoma is a fairly common and deadly form of skin cancer that spreads rapidly and responds poorly to current treatment regimens. According to the American Cancer Society, 120,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed last year. Approximately 76,100 of these cases involved invasive melanoma, which kills just under 10,000 people in the US each year.

Keytruda is already approved in the US but is still under review in Europe. The British early access initiative, which is similar to the US FDA’s fast track program, accelerates the approval and use of “breakthrough” medications and answers critics who say the UK’s state-run healthcare system is too slow in allowing new drugs onto the market.