Thousands of Britons diagnosed with late-stage blood cancer could soon benefit from treatment with a drug that seeks out and destroys tumour cells.
A recent trial has proved that brentuximab vedotin offers patients with advanced Hodgkin lymphoma a more effective option than chemotherapy.
‘It will be very difficult for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence NICE – the UK’s drugs watchdog to say no to approving the drug,’ said John Radford, Professor of Oncology at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.
Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed in about 2,100 Britons every year, most of whom are under 40.
If diagnosed early, Hodgkin lymphoma patients are given a cocktail of drugs which destroys the cancer in 90 per cent of patients
But about 40 per cent of patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when the disease has spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs or liver
It develops when white blood cells called lymphocytes multiply uncontrollably, causing swelling in the lymph nodes – glands in the neck, armpit and groin.
If diagnosed early, patients are given a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs which destroys the cancer in 90 per cent of cases.
But about 40 per cent of patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when the disease has spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs or liver.
Up to a third of these patients do not survive more than five years.
Brentuximab vedotin, which is known as an antibody-drug conjugate, uses artificial proteins to deliver chemotherapy directly to the cancerous cells.
Previous studies found that it is effective for patients who have already undergone other treatments but seen their cancer return, and those who are at this late stage can already access it on the NHS.
But recent trials have shown that of 664 advanced disease patients given brentuximab vedotin, 625 were still alive six years later. This is compared to just 606 given the current protocol.
One patient to benefit is Philip Withey, 41, from Manchester, who took part in the trial. The solicitor was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma that had spread to his lungs in 2015 – the same year his first child was born.
He said: ‘When I found out I had cancer, I suddenly didn’t know if I was going to see my daughter grow up – it was very scary.’
Seven years later, he remains cancer-free. He added: ‘I get a tingling in my fingers and toes as a side effect, but it’s just minor. I’ve been very lucky.’