Approval of breakthrough cancer medicine will offer 'renewed hope'

Approval of breakthrough cancer medicine will offer 'renewed hope'

The approval of a cancer drug for a wider range of conditions has been hailed as an “offer of renewed hope” for SA patients battling the dreaded disease.

KEYTRUDA®, previously used to treat certain types of skin and lung cancers, has been approved for the treatment of bladder cancer and first-line non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCL) by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

The announcement was made during a webinar on Tuesday morning.

“The regulatory approval follows the review of studies and clinical trial data that showed the medicine was safe and effective against additional cancer types. This opens the door to many more cancer patients receiving effective treatment.

“The approved medicine is an immunotherapy treatment that enlists the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, and can reduce the need for major treatments such as chemotherapy,” said global pharmaceutical company MSD.

KEYTRUDA® was approved in 2017 to treat metastatic melanoma and advanced lung cancer.

It has now been approved for first-line treatment of advanced lung cancer and second-line treatment of advanced bladder cancer.

First-line treatment is the first treatment given for a disease. It is often part of a standard set of treatments, such as surgery, which may be followed by chemotherapy and radiation. When used by itself, a first-line therapy is the one accepted as the best treatment. If it doesn’t cure the disease or causes severe side-effects, other treatment may be added or used instead.

Second-line treatment is the treatment of a disease or condition after the initial treatment has failed, stopped working or has side-effects that aren't tolerated.

Oncologist Prof Bernardo Leon Rapoport said SA had significant challenges around lung cancer.

“With another first-line treatment available for advanced lung cancer, we can look to improve survival rates, which means a better quality of life for cancer patients and a reduced disease burden on society.”

Oncologist Dr Devan Moodley said immunotherapy medicines created new options to treat cancer which may prolong survival or turn cancer into a manageable chronic disease.

“This approval is welcome news, and we need to continue research in this area with the aim of expanding the cancer types we can treat.”

Dr Priya Agrawal, MD for MSD in SA and Sub-Saharan Africa, said the approval was an incredible breakthrough for SA cancer patients.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), lung cancer caused the deaths of 1.7-million people globally in 2018, while bladder cancer claimed the lives of around 200,000 patients.

In SA, more than 100,000 cases of cancer are reported each year, with 57,373 deaths recorded in 2018.

While 848 SA patients lost their lives to bladder cancer in 2018, lung cancer is the deadliest form of the disease, with nearly 8,000 deaths in that year alone.