Drugs approved in Scotland for bladder and skin cancers

In collaboration with the Press Association

Two new cancer drugs have been approved for use on the NHS in Scotland. 

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) was approved for advanced bladder cancer, and Ameluz was approved to treat a type of skin cancer. 

"This decision offers another treatment option for some patients with this devastating disease.” – Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK

Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s head of external affairs in Scotland, hailed the move as fantastic news. 

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) approved pembrolizumab, a type of immunotherapy, after consideration by its patient and clinician engagement process. 

It will be available for patients who have already been treated with chemotherapy for urothelial cancer, the most common type of bladder cancer, that is advanced or has spread to other parts of the body.

Studies showed that pembrolizumab improved survival by around 3 months and has fewer side effects than standard treatment.

How does pembrolizumab work?

Pembrolizumab is a type of immunotherapy that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells, and this decision offers another treatment option for some patients with this devastating disease,” said McNie. 

The drug blocks an interaction between two molecules, one on the cancer cell and one on specialised immune cells. 

This releases the brakes on the immune cells and boosts their cancer-fighting ability. 

Around 830 patients are diagnosed with bladder cancer in Scotland every year.

“We’re pleased that SMC and the drug company worked together to make it routinely available to these patients in Scotland,” added McNie.

SMC chairman Dr Alan MacDonald said the drug will help provide patients with valuable additional months with their families.

Ameluz (5-aminolaevulinic acid hydrochloride) was approved to treat a type of early stage skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma, in cases where surgery is unsuitable.

Dr McDonald said that for those patients, Amelus offers a treatment option with a lower risk of scarring.