Bristol's Opdivo-Yervoy melanoma combo wins speedy thumbs up from NICE

It was only yesterday that England’s cost watchdogs shot down a melanoma combination from Roche. But they had better news Friday for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) surprised industry-watchers with a speedy thumbs up for the one-two punch of Bristol’s Opdivo and Yervoy in advanced forms of the disease. And thanks to that verdict, patients in England will be the first to gain access to the immunotherapy pairing, which won EU approval just last month.

After one of the fastest drug appraisals NICE has carried out, these promising new immunotherapy treatments for advanced melanoma look set to significantly extend the life of people with the condition,” Carole Longson, director of NICE’s Health Technology Evaluation Centre, said in a statement. “The evidence we examined was very promising, and I know further trials are ongoing which have also released encouraging data.”

It’s a welcome verdict for Bristol, which could see 1,300 English patients eligible for the drug combo each year. There is one caveat, though: The company has to offer Yervoy at a discount it’s already struck with the cost-effectiveness gatekeepers through a so-called “patient-access scheme.”

More often than not, NICE makes headlines for shooting down pricey new cancer treatments, and perhaps nobody knows that better than Bristol rival Roche. Thursday, the cost-effectiveness gatekeepers said no to skin-cancer med Cotellic, used in tandem with fellow Roche therapy Zelboraf.

BMS has had mixed results with quick-selling Opdivo, though: In January, NICE green-lighted the solo med in melanoma without even extracting a discount, but in May it dismissed the product as too pricey for lung cancer patients.

Meanwhile, the Opdivo/Yervoy duo therapy has been selling in the U.S. since the FDA approved it last October for a specific group of advanced melanoma patients. And those sales have been helping fuel competition between Opdivo and Keytruda, the nemesis checkpoint inhibitor Merck rolled out in 2014.

- read NICE's evaluation (PDF)

Special Reports: The top 15 pharma companies by 2014 revenue - Bristol-Myers Squibb | Top 20 orphan drugs by 2018 - Yervoy

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