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Drug hope for skin cancer patients

A drug thought to significantly extend the life of patients with advanced skin cancer could be available in the UK later this year.

Trials of ipilimumab showed that just one course of the drug could extend the life of patients with advanced melanoma by years.

Without such treatment some patients would have died from the disease in weeks or months.

At least one is still alive five years after receiving the treatment, and gives the impression of being 'cured'.

Ipilimumab is one of a new generation of antibody drugs which work by stimulating the immune system.

Its makers, the global drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb, has submitted a licence application to European regulators which is likely to be granted in the next two months.

The drug will then be available in the UK, but at a price.

In the US, where it is already approved, ipilimumab costs 120,000 dollars (£73,500) per patient. However, only one four-infusion course of treatment over three months is needed.

It remains to be seen whether the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which issues guidelines that help determine whether new drugs are offered on the NHS in England and Wales, gives ipilimumab its seal of approval.

A NICE appraisal of ipilimumab is provisionally scheduled to begin in late May next year.

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