UK’s NHS has approved a new drug to treat advanced skin cancer cases. Nivolumab, also known as Opdivo has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice). It is a type of immunotherapy that stimulates a person’s immune system to fight cancer cells. It has been confirmed by researchers that patients taking the drug survive much longer than when on traditional chemotherapy. The one-year survival rate for Nivolumab was 73 percent whereas that of chemotherapy was only 42 percent.

The NHS gave the go-ahead after the drug cost watchdog was happy with the £5,700 (AU$11,612) per month price, which they thought is a good value for money. It is believed that the new skin cancer drug Nivolumab can treat 1,400 patients a year, though health experts have urged Nice to make the drug available to more patients.

“It's vital that we get novel and exciting cancer treatments to patients as quickly as possible,” said Prof. Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

Drug Nivolumab targets and blocks PD-1, a protein found on the surface of certain immune cells known as T-cells. Blocking the PD-1 activates T-cells to find and kill cancer cells. The drug was previously rejected by Nice, especially for patients suffering from advanced lung cancer, despite the fact that patients with non-small cell lung cancer treated with Nivolumab lived an average of 12.2 months compared to chemotherapy’s average of 9.4 months, reports

Although a final decision on the medicine with respect to lung cancer patients is awaited, it is expected that the final guidance for lung cancer patients will be issued by May 2016.

“We welcome today's decision from Nice, which is positive news for melanoma patients in the UK,” said Johanna Mercier, general manager of Bristol-Myers Squibb, the company that makes the drug.

In 2011, more than 13,000 melanoma cases were reported in the UK, melanoma is the third most common cancer in both Australian women and men, and the most common cancer in Australians aged 15-44 years.