The NHS lung cancer drug that ‘stops tumours growing’

Historic breakthrough as Sotorasib found to successfully target ‘death star’ mutation

An x-ray of lungs
(Image credit: American Cancer Society via Getty Images)

NHS lung cancer patients will be the first in Europe to receive a revolutionary new drug that can stop tumour growth.

The Times reported that Sotorasib will be fast-tracked to NHS patients after trials found that the medication halted the growth of lung cancer for seven months.

Sotorasib works by targeting a protein mutation that is known as the “death star” because it is spherical and difficult to penetrate. It is found in a quarter of all tumours. It then binds with this mutation, KRAS G12C, and makes it inactive, stopping cell division and cancer growth.

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Taken as a tablet, Sotorasib is leading a new generation of drugs that appear “to have cracked the puzzle after four decades of research”. Doctors also hope it will “represent a breakthrough for pancreatic and bowel cancer treatment”, said the newspaper.

Around 600 lung cancer patients a year will be given the drug in England starting this month after an early access deal was struck with the manufacturer Amgen UK. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is currently reviewing the cost effectiveness of the treatment. It is being offered free of charge to the NHS. “Eventually,” said The Guardian, “thousands of cancer patients are likely to benefit from the drug.”

Professor Charles Swanton, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, described the drug as one “of the most exciting breakthroughs in lung cancer treatment in 20 years, targeting a cancer gene that was previously untargetable” having “unravelled cancer’s inner workings”.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS England chief executive, said the health service “has a strong track record of securing best value access to world-class treatments for our patients” and said the latest deal “will save lives”.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, added that the “ground-breaking new drug” will “make a difference to people across England and boosts our efforts to get people the treatment they need”.

The Telegraph suggests there are around 47,800 new lung cancer cases every year in the UK, making it the third most common cancer.

The Evening Standard said NHS England has also agreed deals for several other drugs, including a cholesterol lowering jab expected to prevent around 55,000 heart attacks in the next three years, and Osimertinib, another lung cancer drug that aims to reduce the chance of the cancer returning.

News of the Sotorasib deal comes as the health service continues its latest phase of its Help Us to Help You campaign.This urges anyone experiencing symptoms or unusual changes – such as a persistent cough that is not Covid, coughing up blood, a lump in the tummy or breast area, post-menopausal bleeding, or unexplained weight loss – to contact their GP immediately. All of these could be a sign of cancer.

The challenge that cancer poses for the NHS has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Independent notes that analysis from the charity Macmillan estimates the NHS in England would need to work at 110% capacity for 17 months to catch up on missing cancer diagnoses, and for 13 months to clear the cancer treatment backlog.

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