European Commission has approved a six-week dosing schedule for KEYTRUDA®▼

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MSD has announced that the European Commission has approved a six-week dosing schedule for KEYTRUDA®▼ (pembrolizumab) across all current monotherapy indications. Oncologists now have the flexibility to treat cancer patients across the reimbursed monotherapy indications at six-weekly intervals with immediate effect.

This new indication allows certain patients with advanced melanoma, certain patients with untreated and previously treated non-small cell lung cancer, classical Hodgkin lymphoma and bladder cancer, the option to be treated with pembrolizumab monotherapy every six weeks in the UK, and patients with stage III melanoma who have had resection in England.

The UK’s oncologist workforce is under serious strain, being 18% understaffed of clinical oncologists. Without investment this gap is expected to expand to 22% by 2023. To close this gap between supply and demand for oncologists, the number of clinical oncology trainees would need to at least double, at which point the gap wouldn’t even be closed until 2029.

This is all whilst the number of new cancer cases in the UK rises – in 2016, 303,135 new cases were recorded in England alone. The extended dosing schedule could help relieve the strain on oncologists by providing much-needed flexibility in the frequency of patient treatment appointments, freeing up oncologist capacity.

Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden said, “This is excellent news for patients and is a significant step forward as it gives much greater flexibility, because it is only necessary to attend hospital every six weeks rather than every three weeks for treatment. Hundreds of people across the UK are being treated with pembrolizumab for melanoma and will need less frequent hospital visits, which is especially important for those patients that travel long distances for their treatment.”

Louise Houson, Managing Director, MSD UK & Ireland, said, “Working with the NHS is paramount to MSD, and as such we are well aware of the pressures oncologists are facing when treating a growing population of patients. As pembrolizumab now gives oncologists the option in how regularly they treat patients across a number of different tumour types, we are making progress in freeing up much-needed oncologist capacity whilst providing effective and sustainable treatments for a rising patient population. MSD remains committed to improving the lives of people living with cancer, which includes the ability to offer greater flexibility in administering pembrolizumab. The extended dosing schedule further demonstrates MSD’s commitment to helping to improve the lives of patients with many types of cancer.”

Imogen Cheese, founder of Melanoma Patient Conference and melanoma patient, said “Patients lose so much when diagnosed with cancer, so the news that the pembrolizumab dosing might give patients time back is great progress. Dosing at six weeks rather than every three weeks means patients can visit the hospital less & try to continue with their lives whilst continuing their treatment regimen.”