Today, it has been accepted! The first drug approved through the Early Access to Medicine Scheme (EAMS), named pembrolizumab, is an immunotherapy treatment for advanced melanoma. The treatment has been developed by Merck, known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, with early development work carried out using MRC Technology’s antibody humanization expertise.
EAMS is a new NHS system that enables drugs to be fast-tracked to patients. The scheme has been set up to give severely ill patients rapid access to promising unlicensed medicines, meaning that this drug is available to be prescribed to patients much earlier than it would normally have been before EAMS was established. Now, the first drug approved using this platform, is accessible for UK patients who need it.
Pembrolizumab is considered a next generation drug in cancer care, stimulating the body’s immune system to fight the disease. The therapeutic is one of a new generation of PD-1 (programmed cell death protein 1) therapies that block the biological pathways cancers use to disguise themselves from the immune system. It acts by making the cancer cell ‘visible’ to the immune system, leaving the cell to then be destroyed by the body’s natural defence mechanisms. UK based scientists at MRC Technology (MRCT), with extensive expertise in antibody engineering techniques, first advanced the antibody-based treatment and carried out humanization, an essential step in the success of the therapeutic.
Dr Justin Bryans, Director of Drug Discovery, MRCT stated: “Pembrolizumab is different from other cancer drugs, as it boosts the immune system to launch an attack on cancer cells, rather than destroying cancer cells directly. MRC Technology scientists humanised the antibody so it would not be recognised and hence destroyed by the immune system. The PD-1 pathway allows cancer cells to escape detection by the body’s immune response. The antibody blocks this pathway leaving cancer cells susceptible to attack and destruction by the immune system.”
MRC Technology is an independent life science medical research charity, offering professional services to organizations within the academic, charity, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors globally. With a strong pipeline in development and four already approved drugs (Tysabri, Actemra, Entyvio and Keytruda) and MRC Technology bridges the gap between basic medical research and commercialization.