The approved medicine is an immunotherapy treatment that enlists the body’s own immune system to fight cancer and can reduce the need for major treatments such as chemotherapy.
Keytruda manufactured by global pharmaceutical company MSD, was approved in 2017 to treat metastatic melanoma and advanced lung cancer. It is now approved for:
- First-line treatment of advanced lung cancer1
- First- and second-line treatment of advanced bladder cancer1
“This is an incredible breakthrough for South African cancer patients and we’re extremely proud that our medicines can now help to save and improve the lives of more people,” said Dr Priya Agrawal, Managing Director for MSD in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. “Most of us know someone who has been touched by cancer and our mission as a company is to ensure positive outcomes for as many patients, as we have seen the impact of this medicine in other countries and I am so glad to be able to make it available to South African patients as well”.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), lung cancer2 caused the deaths of 1,7 million people globally in 2018, while bladder cancer3 claimed the lives of around 200 000 patients.
In South Africa, more than 100 000 cases of cancer are reported each year, with 57 373 deaths recorded in 2018. While 848 patients lost their lives to bladder cancer in 2018, lung cancer is the deadliest form of the disease, with nearly 8 000 deaths in that year alone.4
“South Africa has significant challenges around lung cancer,” said oncologist Prof Bernardo Leon Rapoport. “With another first-line treatment available for advanced lung cancer, we can look to improve survival rates, which mean a better quality of life for cancer patients and a reduced disease burden on society”.
Such breakthroughs in research, development and approvals in the immuno-oncology space give governments, health systems and physicians the opportunity to help more patients.
“Immunotherapy medicines create new options to treat cancer, which may prolong survival or turn cancer into a manageable, chronic disease,” said oncologist Dr Devan Moodley. “This approval is welcome news, and we need to continue research in this area, with the aim of expanding the cancer types we can treat”.