Pill tested in North East available to tackle cancer

A daily pill to beat disfiguring skin cancers has been given the go ahead following North East trials

Prof Ruth Plummer
Prof Ruth Plummer

A daily pill to beat disfiguring skin cancers has been given the go ahead following North East trials.

A team at the region’s Northern Institute for Cancer Research has been at the forefront of efforts to create a once a day pill set to bring new hope to thousands hit with a disease that often sees tumours grow on the face and neck.

From today patients with a particular type of skin cancer could be treated with vismodegib, which is available following European Medicines Agency approval for use in the UK and listing on the national Cancer Drugs Fund. Clinical trials in Newcastle – one of only a handful that have taken place in the country – found that the treatment was able to shrink visible lesions in 47% of patients with advanced basal cell carcinoma.

Tumours were also shown to be reduced in 33% of those with metastatic basal cell carcinoma.

Prof Ruth Plummer, consultant medical oncologist at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, has been leading the clinical trial.

She said: “Although relatively rare, advanced basal cell carcinoma is a highly disfiguring disease stemming from the most common form of skin cancer in the UK.

“With these tumours appearing mainly on the face, neck and scalp, patients often feel socially isolated and, as a result, may suffer emotionally.

“Following the clinical trial we ran in Newcastle, I’m delighted that this treatment is now available to patients across the UK and that we can offer a new non-surgical treatment to patients with advanced basal cell carcinoma.

“Our reputation meant that we were asked to be the Northern site for the clinical trial.”

Basal cell carcinoma, a non-melanoma type of skin cancer, is the most common form of cancer in Europe and is usually treated with surgery. It is often found on the head and neck.

However, when it becomes advanced it can result in invasive, recurrent or multiple lesions that can be inappropriate for surgery.

It is estimated there could be approximately 700 people suffering from advanced basal cell carcinoma in the UK and that up to a dozen patients a year in the North East would benefit from the new pill.

The pill comes following research on the tumour growth by Cancer Research UK. Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “We are proud to have played a key role in the early development of this drug and we’re delighted that it has passed this regulatory hurdle and is approved for use in the UK.

“This drug is a major advance for the treatment of this disease, providing advanced basal cell carcinoma patients with a new treatment option.

“This is great news for patients and it’s thanks to the generosity of our supporters that we can invest in crucial early research which sparks advances like this.”

Specialist clinicians in England will be able to apply for vismodegib via the Cancer Drugs Fund which has added the drug and criteria for funding to its nationally approved list.


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