‘Covid-friendly’ cancer treatments that are safer for patients during the pandemic are being expanded and extended through a £160 million NHS initiative.
The money will pay for drugs that treat patients without having such a big impact on their immune system, or which offer other benefits such as fewer hospital visits. Thousands of patients have already benefited from almost 50 treatments approved for use as ‘swaps’ for existing drugs.
More will be available from this week, thanks to a series of deals struck between the NHS and pharmaceutical companies. Some of these new options mean patients can take tablets at home or receive medicines with fewer side-effects instead of undergoing hospital-based treatment which could leave them more susceptible to coronavirus and other infections.
Funding these ‘Covid-friendly drugs’ is just one of the measure adopted by the NHS to care for patients since the first UK case was confirmed in January. Millions of people have received help and advice over the phone or online through the ‘111 First’ system, ensuring those who need medical help are directed to the right services. Remote consultations have also spared many more unnecessary trips to the doctor’s surgery or outpatients clinic, and Covid-secure cancer hubs have been set up to safely provide surgery for those who need it.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: “Since the first case of Covid in England six months ago, NHS staff have fast-tracked new, innovative ways of working so that other services, including A&E, cancer and maternity could continue safely for patients. It’s is thanks to these incredible efforts that 65,000 people could start treatment for cancer during the pandemic.
“We’re now adopting new, kinder treatment options which are not only effective but safer for use during the Covid-19 pandemic and more convenient for thousands of patients, who can take medication at home or be given medicines with less harmful effects on their immune system.”
Some of the treatment options now available include:
- Venetoclax in acute myeloid leukaemia as an oral alternative to more toxic standard chemotherapy
- Nivolumab for patients with bowel cancer whose cancers have a specific genetic fingerprint
- Ixazomib in myeloma as an oral alternative to treatment which would require more hospital visits and injections
- Atezolizumab as first-line immunotherapy for bladder cancer instead of chemotherapy.
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “This is encouraging news for some patients, who could now go ahead with their treatment, when it might have previously been on hold due to Covid-19.
“In recent years, successful price negotiations between the NHS and drug manufacturers have significantly improved patients’ access to new cancer medicines, but cancer doesn’t stop because of a pandemic, so it’s fantastic to see this work continuing throughout this difficult period. Steps like this to adapt the care patients can be offered, together with the creation of Covid-protected safe spaces, will be critical in minimising the impact on people with cancer and ensuring their survival.”