NHS ‘fast tracks’ new therapy for stem cell patients

Cancer patients in England with a disease which occurs in one in three people who have a stem cell transplant are to benefit from a new drug, NHS officials have announced.

Chronic graft versus host disease is diagnosed in around a third of patients who have undergone stem cell or bone marrow transplants for blood cancers.

NHS England has fast tracked a new drug to treat the condition, which occurs when the white blood cells in the donated tissue attack the recipient’s organs and weaken the immune system.

In one in 10 cases it can be fatal.

Current treatments include chemotherapy, an antibody treatment or a targeted therapy called imatinib.

But around half of patients with chronic graft versus host disease will not respond to these treatments.

The new drug Belumosudil, also known as Rezurock, will be offered to patients who have tried two of the current treatments without success.

Officials estimate that around 200 patients will be given the treatment over the next three years.

The once-a-day tablet works by inhibiting the proteins which are responsible for the potentially life-threatening inflammatory response caused by chronic graft versus host disease.

“This rollout is a real breakthrough for patients with graft versus host disease and it will help people living with this debilitating condition effectively manage their symptoms and enhance their quality of life and daily functioning,” said James Palmer, NHS England’s medical director for specialised services.

“It’s great news that the NHS has been able to fast track funding for a treatment which will have a significant impact for hundreds of patients over the coming years.”