The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has recently approved Merck & Co (MSD)’s blockbuster drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for use in advanced cervical cancer via the Cancer Drug Fund (CDF). This fast-tracked route will provide 400 National Health Service (NHS) patients in the UK who have incurable cervical cancer with rapid access to a new treatment regime for the first time in nearly 15 years.

The recommendation by NICE was granted based on promising data obtained from MSD’s ongoing Phase III trial (KEYNOTE-826). According to GlobalData’s Clinical Trials database, the trial results showed that pembrolizumab reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 35% compared to chemotherapy with or without bevacizumab, which is the only course of treatment for advanced cervical cancer currently approved by NICE for NHS funding. This figure translates into each patient gaining 1.90 life years (LYs) and 1.42 quality-adjusted life years (QALYs).

The CDF was introduced in 2011 as a source of funding for cancer drugs in England to allow NHS patients access to cutting-edge treatments that had been previously rejected by NICE when deemed not cost-effective, or drugs pending approval until sufficient data supporting the survival benefit is examined. Since 2016, NICE has recommended 53 cancer treatments for use in the CDF which has benefitted over 55,000 patients. Most CDF drugs go on to receive NICE approval and become routinely used throughout the NHS.

This recommendation is a step in the right direction to rectifying the unmet needs of those living with advanced cervical cancer. However, GlobalData’s Drugs database has given the use of pembrolizumab for human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancer, which included over 99% of all cases of cervical cancer, a likelihood of approval score of 18%. This reiterates the significant difficulties and unpredictability of achieving approval. For now, the CDF has provided NHS patients who have this challenging diagnosis with a chance at hope, and most importantly, time.