Archived content

We no longer publish press releases. See the news pages for up-to-date information from NICE.

07 September 2015

NICE recommends pembrolizumab for advanced skin cancer

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has today (Monday 7 September) said yes to pembrolizumab for treating advanced skin cancer in final draft guidance.

NICE recommends that the drug pembrolizumab (also called Keytruda and manufactured by Merck, Sharp & Dohme) is made available on the NHS as a treatment for some patients with advanced melanoma which is either unresectable (when the full tumour cannot be removed) or metastatic (the cancer has spread to other parts of the body).  Pembrolizumab has a marketing authorisation in the UK as monotherapy ‘for the treatment of advanced (unresectable or metastatic) melanoma in adults’. This is broader than the indication covered by this appraisal which looked at using pembrolizumab in people who had already had ipilimumab. Pembrolizumab is recommended for the indication covered by the company evidence submission, that is:

•        after the disease has progressed with ipilimumab and, for BRAF V600 mutation-positive disease, a BRAF or MEK inhibitor (such as dabrafenib or vemurafenib [BRAF inhibitors] or tramentinib or cobimetinib [MEK inhibitors]), and

•        when the company provides pembrolizumab with the discount agreed in the patient access scheme.

The independent Committee decided that an appraisal consultation document (ACD) was not needed for this appraisal, so the recommendations could go straight to a final appraisal determination (FAD). This happens when the Committee recommends a treatment in line with its licensed indication, or in this case, in line with the part of the licensed indication that was included in the scope of the appraisal, .

Pembrolizumab was the first drug to be approved through the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’s Early Access to Medicine Scheme (EAMS). The scheme aims to give patients with life threatening or seriously debilitating conditions access to medicines that do not yet have a marketing authorisation when there is a clear unmet medical need.

Professor Carole Longson, Health Technology Evaluation Centre Director said: “We are pleased to be able to recommend pembrolizumab, the first EAMS drug, in final draft guidance.  In 2011, over 13,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma in the UK, and it accounts for more deaths than all other skin cancers combinedi. I am sure this will be welcome news to patients and healthcare professionals alike.”

Life science minister George Freeman said:

“I am delighted that Merck, Sharp & Dohme has decided to use the Early Access to Medicines Scheme to accelerate access for our NHS patients. The Accelerated Access Reviewii will also make practical recommendations to further increase the pace of getting innovative products to patients.”

The draft guidance is now with consultees, who have the opportunity to appeal against it. Until NICE issues final guidance, NHS bodies should make decisions locally on the funding of specific treatments.



For more information call the NICE press office on 0845 003 7782 or out of hours on 07775 583 813, or email

Notes to Editors


  1. Cancer Research UK cancer statistics.
  2. The Accelerated Access Review aims to speed up access to innovative drugs, devices and diagnostics for NHS patients.

About the guidance

  1. The draft guidance will be available at /guidance/indevelopment/gid-tag501      from 00:01hrs on Monday 7 September 2015.
  2. The Committee concluded that that the most plausible ICER for pembrolizumab compared with best supportive care was likely to be less than £50,000 per QALY gained.
  3. The acquisition cost of pembrolizumab is £1315 per 50 mg vial (excluding VAT; company’s submission). The company has agreed a patient access scheme with the Department of Health. This scheme provides a simple      discount to the list price of pembrolizumab with the discount applied at  the point of purchase or invoice. The level of the discount is commercial in confidence.
  4. In March 2015, Pembrolizumab was the first drug to be approved through the Early Access to Medicine Scheme (EAMS) which fast tracks unlicensed medicines to severely ill patients. Following clinical trials,  the Medicines and Health Regulatory Authority (MHRA) approved the drug designed to treat patients with advanced melanoma. This means that this drug is available to be prescribed to patients before it would normally      have been before the EAMS was established.
  5. The full indication covered by the Early Access to Medicines Scientific Opinion was: “Treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma with progressive, persistent, or recurrent disease on or following treatment with  standard of care agents including ipilimumab, and when indicated a V-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B1 (BRAF) inhibitor or mitogen-activated protein kinase (MEK) enzyme inhibitor.” The draft guidance covers the whole population for which pembrolizumab was available through the EAMS.
  6. The Scottish Medicine’s Consortium is due to publish advice on pembrolizumab for the treatment of patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma who  have been previously treated with ipilimumab in November 2015.
  7. In October 2014, NICE published guidance recommending dabrafenib as a possible treatment for treating unresectable or metastatic BRAF V600 mutation‑positive melanoma. /guidance/ta321
  8. In July 2014, NICE published guidance recommending ipilimumab as a possible treatment for adults with advanced (unresectable or metastatic)  melanoma that has not been treated before.   /guidance/ta319
  9. In December 2012, NICE published guidance recommending ipilimumab as a possible treatment for people with previously treated advanced (unresectable or metastatic) melanoma.   /guidance/ta268
  10. NICE is currently  developing guidance on pembrolizumab for treating ipilimumab naive unresectable, metastatic melanoma.  The  anticipated publication date is January 2016.   /guidance/indevelopment/gid-tag505
  11. NICE technology appraisals apply in England.  Decisions on how they apply in other UK  countries are made by ministers in the Welsh Government, Scottish  Government, and Northern Ireland Executive.
  12. In 2011, 13,348 people were diagnosed with  malignant melanoma in the UK.


About NICE

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the independent body responsible for driving improvement and excellence in the health and social care system. We develop guidance, standards and information on high-quality health and social care. We also advise on ways to promote healthy living and prevent ill health.

Our aim is to help practitioners deliver the best possible care and give people the most effective treatments, which are based on the most up-to-date evidence and provide value for money, in order to reduce inequalities and variation.

Our products and resources are produced for the NHS, local authorities, care providers, charities, and anyone who has a responsibility for commissioning or providing healthcare, public health or social care services.

To find out more about what we do, visit our and follow us on Twitter: @NICEComms.

We are pleased to be able to recommend pembrolizumab, the first EAMS drug, in final draft guidance.

Professor Carole Longson, NICE Health Technology Evaluation Centre Director.