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Dublin: 6 °C Wednesday 13 November, 2019

Life extending drug now available to hundreds of Irish cancer patients

Writer AA Gill described nivolumab as “more life spent on Earth – but only if you can pay”.

AA Gill campaigned for more access to the drug in England.
AA Gill campaigned for more access to the drug in England.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE suffering from a range of cancers now have access to a drug that has shown to significantly extent patient’s lives.

Pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb announced today that the HSE has approved immunotherapy drug nivolumab for use in Ireland in patients suffering from advanced melanoma, advanced kidney cancer and classical Hodgkin lymphoma.

Approximately 1,700 people were diagnosed with the three cancers between 2012-2014 and nearly 400 patients died between 2011-2013.

The drug works by stimulating the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. It has been approved for use by itself and also for use in combination with another cancer drug, ipilimumab.

Studies have indicated that the combination of drugs could significantly extend the lives of thousands of cancer patients.

A study of kidney cancer patients last year found that 40% of people treated with the drugs saw their tumours significantly reduce while 10% were left with “no detectable sign of cancer” at all.

While an international study on advanced melanoma patients in 2015 found that it stopped cancer advancing for nearly a year in 58% of cases.

Nivolumab hit the headlines in the UK last year during AA Gill’s final weeks when the writer described it as “more life spent on Earth – but only if you can pay”.

The HSE had been criticised for their delay in approving the drug.

Kay Curtin of Melanoma Support Ireland said “These ground-breaking treatments will undoubtedly benefit patients, many of whom are struggling to survive this disease and are often from a younger age category to other cancers.

As melanoma diagnosis rates have increased rapidly for some years in Ireland, these approvals will finally offer those with advanced disease, similar treatment options to our European counterparts, which is fantastic news for Irish patients.

READ: VHI set to cut the price of health insurance on 26 of its plans>

READ: This surgery could help solve Ireland’s obesity crisis and save the country billions>

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Ceimin Burke

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