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LONDON, May 31 (Reuters) - Britain's cost-effectiveness agency NICE has decided that Merck & Co's immunotherapy drug Keytruda can be used in previously untreated lung cancer patients under special funding arrangements.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said on Wednesday that it could not recommend routine use of the medicine in newly diagnosed patients, given the drug's high cost and uncertainties about overall survival benefits.
But the agency backed Keytruda use within the Cancer Drugs Fund, signalling that it had the potential to satisfy the criteria for routine use on the National Health Service (NHS) for this group of patients but needs more investigation.
The decision follows data presented at a medical meeting last year showing that Keytruda could help lung cancer patients whose tumours have a high level of a protein called PD-L1, which makes them more receptive to immunotherapy.
Keytruda is already approved as a cost-effective second-line treatment for patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who have previously taken chemotherapy but no longer respond.
MSD, as Merck is known outside North America, has agreed to provide Keytruda to the NHS at an undisclosed discount. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Goodman)