First new life-extending NHS treatment for incurable cervical cancer in almost 15 Years

A life-extending treatment for advanced cervical cancer will be made available to hundreds of NHS patients from today.

The immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) is the first new addition to NHS treatment for incurable cervical cancer for 14 years.

Around 400 people are expected to benefit from the treatment over the next three years after NHS England struck a deal to fast-track the drug through the Cancer Drugs Fund making it immediately available.

The drug is already offered by the NHS in England for the treatment of several other cancers, including breast, bowel, lung, and skin, and it has now been given the green light by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for certain patients with cervical cancer whose disease has not responded to other treatments1.

Given in combination with standard chemotherapy, the injected drug works by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells, targeting and blocking a specific protein (called PD-L1) on the surface of certain immune cells which then seek out and destroy the cancerous cells.

Clinical trial data suggest that adding pembrolizumab to standard chemotherapy may help extend patients’ lives by up to eight months on average (compared to chemotherapy alone), and the drug will now be available via the Cancer Drugs Fund while further evidence on the exact survival benefit is collected and analysed.

Around 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in England, with the disease most-commonly diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 34, according to Cancer Research UK.

NHS England’s Director of Specialised Commissioning and interim Commercial Medicines Director, John Stewart, said: “After nearly 15 years without a new treatment for this type of advanced cervical cancer, this first immunotherapy marks a significant step forward that will provide hundreds of people with precious time with their loved ones.

“This is the 243rd treatment offered through the Cancer Drugs Fund that enables the NHS to provide faster access to cutting-edge cancer treatments for patients, while further data about its long term clinical benefit can be collected”

NHS National Director for Cancer Dame Cally Palmer said: “Making this life-extending drug available today is a significant moment for women with advanced cervical cancer, which disproportionately affects younger women, allowing them to spend more precious time with loved ones and enjoy a better and longer quality of life.

“This has been made possible thanks to the Cancer Drugs Fund, which allows the NHS to get early access to the latest cancer treatments, and is just the latest example of NHS England using its commercial capabilities to deliver on the NHS Long Term Plan commitment to provide patients with the latest cutting-edge treatments for cancer.”

David Long, Head of Oncology at MSD UK said: “Advanced cervical cancer is an aggressive and incurable disease which has a major impact on patients and their families. It is most common in those from the most deprived backgrounds. Before today there were few treatment options for people with advanced cervical cancer and now MSD is incredibly proud that patients have access to a new treatment option that we hope will go some way to addressing the significant unmet need.”

Approximately 690 people die from cervical cancer in England each year – around two deaths every day.

This will be the first new NHS treatment for incurable cervical cancer since 2009 and is one of more than 100 drugs to be fast-tracked to patients thanks to the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Now in its 75th year, the NHS continues to deliver world-leading access to innovative new treatments, with NHS patients among the first to be prescribed life-changing cystic fibrosis drug Kaftrio and nearly a third more cancer drugs now available in England compared to Europe.

Samantha Dixon, CEO of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Today’s announcement that pembrolizumab will be available in England through the Cancer Drugs Fund is fantastic news. Treatments are far too limited for those living with advanced cervical cancer and this provides patients with valuable options, hope and most importantly time.

“Cervical cancer affects women of all ages, many are young. They have families, children, jobs, caring responsibilities. Pembrolizumab can slow the progression of cervical cancer and the impact of this on those who are eligible for the treatment cannot be understated.

“We thank every woman who shared their experience of living with advanced cervical cancer with us. That contribution has helped inform the decision and provided access to this vital drug.”

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme helps save thousands of lives per year and those who are invited are being encouraged to ensure they attend their screening.

In the last year (2021/22) the NHS sent out more screening invitations than ever before – more than 5 million – and 3.5 million people came forward for testing.

Screening helps prevent cervical cancer by using a highly effective test to check for high-risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is found in over 99% of all cervical cancers and which may cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix. These cells can, over time, turn into cancer if left untreated.