Posted on 15 September 2023

​The NHS is about to roll out an innovative new cancer therapeutic, a subcutaneous (under the skin) injection of the drug atezolizumab, cutting the treatment time by three quarters. The news was announced in an NHS press briefing after being given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The subcutaneous version is expected to reduce a typical patients time of receiving the previously intravenous atezolizumab from nearly 60 minutes to just under seven minutes, freeing up valuable resources for oncology and specialist teams.

It's expected hundreds of eligible patients will begin receiving the subcutaneous injection within weeks, while the change in method is expected to be rolled out to 3,600 patients annually. Only patients receiving atezolizumab with a concurrent chemotherapy injection will remain on their current treatment to improve drug delivery and efficiency.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS National Director for Cancer said: “The world-first introduction of this treatment will mean that hundreds of patients can spend less time at the hospital and will free up valuable time in NHS chemotherapy units. Maintaining the best possible quality of life for cancer patients is vital, so the introduction of faster under-the-skin injections will make an important difference”. Consultant oncologist Dr Alexander Martin at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said: “This is great news for both patients and clinicians. We welcome any new initiative that brings speedier treatment to patients and gives them more comfortable care. This approval will not only allow us to deliver convenient and faster care for our patients, but will enable our teams to treat more patients throughout the day”.

Atezolizumab is not the only drug that’s been introduced recently to target cancer – Phesgo, since April 2021, has been administered to thousands of people with breast cancer; many have benefitted from slashed treatment times (down to just minutes) with patient uptake on the NHS observed faster than anywhere else in the world. The world-first rollout of Atezolizumab the latest example of how the NHS is attempting to promote efficiency by adopting medical innovations and follows the recent publication last month of new guidance to optimise medicines use across the NHS as nearly £7bn will be saved by the end of the fiscal year thanks to a five-year drug pricing agreement negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies.

Earlier, in April, the NHS also announced a deal to get a new cancer drug that works for prostate and breast cancer, two of the most common in the UK. The drug, Olaparib (Lynparza®), finds cancers with mutations in a specific gene (BRCA genes), and works by preventing cancer cells from DNA repair, which eventually causes the cells to self-destruct. In advanced prostate cancer with metastases, clinical trials have shown that olaparib taken daily can extend patients’ lives by an average of six months – from 12 to 18 months. These strides are vital to patients and families suffering the effects of cancer which spread way beyond just the patient themselves.

David Brocklehurst, Head of Oncology, AstraZeneca UK, said: “We know how devastating a diagnosis of either of these hard-to-treat, aggressive cancers can be, for patients and their loved ones. Until now, treatment options for cancers resulting from BRCA mutations have been extremely limited. The availability of olaparib, a treatment discovered and developed in the UK, makes us extremely proud. Treatment innovations such as these underscore our bold long-term ambition to eliminate cancer as a cause of death”.

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