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30 cervical cancer patients have commenced pembrolizumab — HSE

Thirty patients with cervical cancer had commenced pembrolizumab by the third quarter of this year, according to the HSE.

The number of patients expected to have pembrolizumab prescribed as a treatment for their cervical cancer was estimated to be 40 patients in the first year, a spokesperson for the Executive told the Medical Independent.

“As patients are at different stages of treatment, the year-to-date costs are not yet available,” according to the spokesperson.

Asked if the HSE was receiving data on the impact of the drug, the spokesperson said it “does not routinely collect data on outcomes and/or efficacy”. Pembrolizumab can cost up to €140,000 per patient per year.

In May 2018, the drug was made available to clinically-suitable women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy as part of Government support measures.

In late 2018, it was announced that all women with cervical cancer would have access to pembrolizumab in cases where it was recommended by treating clinicians, following a decision by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Patient advocate Ms Vicky Phelan had campaigned for access to the drug for all women with cervical cancer where it was clinically suitable.

Pembrolizumab is not currently licensed in Europe for treatment of cervical cancer. Speaking on RTÉ radio last December, Clinical Director of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics Prof Michael Barry said trial data indicated about 85 per cent of patients may not respond to the drug, in which case they would discontinue the drug after a defined period of time. The managed access programme would mean everyone would have a chance to try the drug, according to Prof Barry, who said he preferred access to be determined via the normal drug approvals process, rather than by ministerial decision.

Meanwhile, the HSE said there is now “no backlog” of smear test slides for review.

This compares to a backlog of 81,346 in March this year, according to the HSE.

“In the beginning of May 2019, MedLab Pathology Ltd ceased processing new tests from CervicalCheck and concentrated on processing all outstanding tests. Additional lab capacity was secured by the HSE by Quest Diagnostics and the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.”

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