Hundreds of people with an aggressive type of blood cancer, known as diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) are set to benefit from a potentially curative new treatment option on the NHS, with approval of the drug glofitamab.
Glofitamab (also called Columvi®) is to be made available for patients with previously treated DLBCL which is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that develops in the glands, after being given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
The NHS is fast-tracking the new treatment which will be made available within weeks for patients who have had two or more cancer treatments that have not been fully effective in eliminating their cancer, such as the case of one patient who is now in remission and able to walk again after being reliant on a wheelchair before treatment.
Dozens of patients have already shown benefit from the drug thanks to an NHS early access programme with clinical trials showing that the drug has the potential to cure patients from the disease.
Around 5,500 people are diagnosed with this type of cancer in England each year which mainly affects men aged 65 and over, with the most common symptom being painless swellings of the glands.
NHS England will use the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) to provide fast-tracked access to the treatment ahead of its future funding from routine commissioning. Since July 2016, more than 93,000 patients have now benefitted from one of more than 100 drugs in over 250 indications through CDF access.
Currently, patients with DLBCL may receive treatment with a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, bone marrow transplant and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies. CAR T therapies are already provided in specialist centres across England, but glofitamab, which is administered as an intravenous infusion, can be offered at more cancer treatment sites across the country.
NHS Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, said: “The approval of Glofitamab is incredible news for those who have this advanced and aggressive form of blood cancer, and it is testament to the hard work of NHS staff that hundreds more patients who can benefit from it will do so in a matter of weeks.
“This is the latest in a long list of cutting-edge drugs available on the NHS to help people with cancer live longer with a better quality of life – it is so wonderful to hear the impact that it has already had on patients like John who can now walk again and spend time with his family, thanks to this lifechanging treatment.”
NHS England’s Cancer Drug’s Fund Lead, Professor Peter Clark, said: “The approval of this drug is great news for people living with an advanced and aggressive form of blood cancer, who are set to benefit from this new treatment.
“Not only does it provide a potentially life-saving option for patients who may have not responded to CAR T therapy, it is also an alternative for some CAR T eligible patients who choose instead to have glofitamab closer to home.
“This is the latest in a long list of cutting-edge drugs available on the NHS to help people with cancer live a longer and better-quality life.”
John Sharp, 68, from Northumberland, was diagnosed with low grade lymphoma in 2001, which transformed to high grade lymphoma in 2021. Despite chemotherapy and CAR-T treatment, his cancer returned. John started treatment with glofitamab via a compassionate access scheme, that enables the use of a drug before full approval, under strict conditions set by the MHRA in March 2023, and went into complete remission after just three cycles. John was also reliant on a wheelchair prior to his treatment and is now able to walk again and fully get on with his life. He receives treatment every three weeks.
He said: “I can’t believe I’m in remission after so many previous treatments – I can go out now with friends and family, I previously needed a wheelchair and now I can walk. I was as weak as water, and I feel so different now: it’s like chalk and cheese – my family and I are really grateful for this new drug and my treatment at the Freeman Hospital under the care of Doctor Osborne.”
Dr Wendy Osborne, an NHS consultant haematologist specialising in lymphoma at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, said: “The NHS rollout of bispecific antibodies like glofitamab, is set to be a breakthrough for patients with lymphoma and has already proven to be life-changing for John.
“Bispecific antibodies use the patient’s own white blood cells to attack and kill the lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. The antibody has two arms. One arm attaches to the cancer cell and the other to the patient’s own white blood cell, a T-cell. By bringing these cells together, the patient’s own immune system is activated and kills the cancer cell and so chemotherapy is not required. Patients don’t have the side effects of chemotherapy and often feel well on this outpatient-based treatment.”
Helen Knight, director of medicines evaluation, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), said: “We are committed to getting the best care to patients fast while ensuring good value for the taxpayer.
“Advanced B-cell lymphoma is an aggressive form of blood cancer and can progress quickly. The sooner people can access the best treatment for them, the better chance they have of living for longer and improving their quality of life.
“This is why it is such good news that our independent committee has found that glofitamab is clinically and cost effective for treating people with this advanced form of cancer, and we welcome the news that NHS England will make this available to patients quickly.”
Pia Ballschmieter, UK Haematology Lead, Roche Products Limited, said: “We are delighted with today’s news that eligible patients in England will now be able to access this treatment. People with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma who have gone through multiple lines of therapy have a poor prognosis and need additional treatment options.
“We couldn’t have achieved this without the collaboration and support of a number of stakeholders across the wider community and we remain committed to ensuring that this treatment is available across the rest of the UK as quickly as possible.”