Drug treatment times for some NHS cancer patients will be slashed by up to three quarters, thanks to an anti-cancer injection that takes as little as seven minutes to administer.
Following the green light from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the NHS in England will be the first health system in the world to roll out the seven-minute injection to hundreds of patients each year.
Currently, patients receive the life-extending immunotherapy atezolizumab (Tencentriq®) in hospital directly into their veins via a drug transfusion.
It usually takes around 30 minutes to administer intravenous atezolizumab, but for some patients this can be up to an hour when it can be difficult to access a vein.
But now and within weeks, hundreds of eligible patients being treated with atezolizumab are set to have their experience improved by switching to the swifter and more comfortable under the skin (or subcutaneous) injection — freeing up valuable time for NHS cancer teams.
Atezolizumab is an immunotherapy drug that empowers a patient’s own immune system to seek and destroy cancerous cells. The treatment is currently offered by transfusion to NHS patients with a range of cancers, including lung, breast, liver and bladder.
It is anticipated the majority of the approximately 3,600 patients starting treatment of atezolizumab annually in England will switch onto the time-saving injection. However, where patients are receiving intravenous chemotherapy in combination with atezolizumab, they may remain on the transfusion.
NHS National Director for Cancer Professor Peter Johnson said: “The world-first introduction of this treatment will mean that hundreds of patients can spend less time at the hospital and will free up valuable time in NHS chemotherapy units.
“Maintaining the best possible quality of life for cancer patients is vital, so the introduction of faster under-the-skin injections will make an important difference.
“Today’s announcement is the latest in a series in the 75th year of the NHS that highlights how an innovation-driven health service is securing the most advanced cancer treatments for patients.”
Dr Alexander Martin, a consultant oncologist at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said: “This is great news for both patients and clinicians. We welcome any new initiative that brings speedier treatment to patients and gives them more comfortable care.
“This approval will not only allow us to deliver convenient and faster care for our patients, but will enable our teams to treat more patients throughout the day.”
The faster treatment comes at no extra cost to the NHS thanks to the existing commercial deal negotiated between NHS England and the manufacturer Roche.
The rollout of subcutaneous atezolizumab follows the introduction of another cancer jab, Phesgo® in 2021. Since April 2021, thousands of people with breast cancer have benefitted the therapy that cut treatment time down to minutes with patient uptake on the NHS observed faster than anywhere else in the world.
Marius Scholtz, Medical Director, Roche Products Limited said: “We are delighted that NHS patients across England have access to the subcutaneous PD-L1 cancer immunotherapy injection, Tecentriq.
“Injecting Tecentriq under the skin offers a faster treatment option as it takes approximately seven minutes, compared with thirty to sixty minutes for the current method of an intravenous infusion of Tecentriq, and we couldn’t have achieved this without the collaboration and support of stakeholders across the cancer community.”
The world-first rollout of this new treatment is the latest example of how the NHS is rapidly adopting medical innovations to improve the efficiency of the health service and follows the publication last month of new guidance to optimise medicines use across the NHS as the health service is also set to save £7bn by the end of this year thanks to a five-year drug pricing agreement negotiated with the pharmaceutical industry.