A new treatment option for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is to be available to NHS patients in Scotland.
Atezolizumab, also known by the brand name Tecentriq, is an immunotherapy which helps the body’s own defence mechanism – our immune system – to fight the cancer.
It works by attaching itself to a protein called PD-L1 which ‘switches off’ the immune system. Atezolizumab prevents the PD-L1 protein from doing this, allowing the immune cells to attack the cancer.
It will be available as a first-line treatment for patients whose tumours have certain characteristics: a high level of PD-L1 (in at least 50% or more of their tumour cells), and/or where immune cells attacking the tumour have at least 10% or higher levels of PD-L1.
The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has now approved atezolizumab for use by patients who fit these criteria.
Immunotherapy is an effective treatment for some people with lung cancer, but not for others. This is because our immune system can only recognise cancer cells that have specific changes in particular genes.
People with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutations for example don’t tend to respond positively to immunotherapies.
As a result, EGFR+ and ALK+ lung cancer patients are offered targeted therapy and chemotherapy before immunotherapy.
Paula Chadwick, chief executive of Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, sees the announcement as an indication that, after the setbacks associated with the pandemic, there is now fresh cause for optimism about options for lung cancer patients.
She said: ‘’Immunotherapies such as atezolizumab provide new ways to help people with lung cancer to live better for longer, so having a fresh option for patients in Scotland is a real step forward.
Prior to the pandemic, we felt there was a really positive momentum building for lung cancer outcomes in the UK. The impact of Covid has been massive, which is why are campaigning so hard to ensure that we bring lung cancer once again to the forefront of the health agenda.
So, this announcement is a very positive step – and very welcome.’’