NICE recommends pembrolizumab for 1,600 more people with breast cancer

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended the use of the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) as an option for some people with early triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) in England and Wales. The NHS has also negotiated a new discount on the drug from its manufacturer, MSD.

According to NICE estimates, this new guidance means that, in England alone, approximately 1,600 more people affected by this aggressive form of the disease should now be eligible for immunotherapy every year.

Pembrolizumab was previously available for a small group of people with advanced TNBC that had spread or couldn’t be surgically removed.

NICE has now recommended that the drug should also be made available for people affected by early TNBC at high risk of recurrence or locally advanced TNBC that hasn’t spread elsewhere in the body.

It will be given with chemotherapy as a way of reducing the size of a tumour before surgery and on its own as a post-surgery treatment.

An effective new treatment option

Clinical trials have shown that this combined approach can reduce the chance of TNBC growing or progressing by 37% compared to chemotherapy alone.

It also increases the likelihood that a cancer will completely respond to treatment, lowering the risk of it returning in future, and lessens the need for mastectomies, surgeries that fully remove people’s breasts.

Clinical experts told the NICE committee that less invasive breast-conserving surgery supports a better quality of life.

“This is good news for people affected by early triple negative breast cancer,” said Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive. “This type of breast cancer has a high risk of recurring after treatment, which can cause real anxiety for patients.

“Clinical trial evidence has shown that pembrolizumab with chemotherapy before surgery – and pembrolizumab on its own after surgery – can not only extend the time before the cancer comes back, but also increase the chance that the cancer disappears.”