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Fears Over Guidance on Cancer Treatment

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http://feed.insnews.org/v-cgi/feeds.cgi ... id=1730742

Apr 01, 08:13 AM

By Barry Nelson

CANCER patients and support groups have voiced fears that future access to a promising chemotherapy drug could be restricted after new guidance was issued to the NHS.

Alimta, a drug which was developed by Newcastle University scientist Professor Hilary Calvert, has been hailed as the first drug to shrink tumours and prolong life among patients suffering from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related lung cancer.

The UK is seeing a rise in mesothelioma cases, with about 2,000 diagnosed a year.

The North-East, with its history of shipbuilding and heavy industry, has the biggest concentration of mesothelioma cases in the country.

Recently, a campaign prompted health bosses to make a U-turn, agreeing that the NHS should pay for patients to receive the chemotherapy drug at 24,000 per course.

But that could be put in jeopardy after the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the committee of experts which advises the NHS on drugs, published its preliminary recommendations on Alimta.

Nice is advising that Alimta should only be prescribed to mesothelioma patients "as part of ongoing or new clinical drug trials that compare it with current best practice or other promising treatment".

Only last month, Prof Calvert told a seminar on mesothelioma, which took place in Newcastle, that he was optimistic that Alimta could be made even more effective.

Currently the drug appears to extend some patients' lives by about six months.

But Prof Calvert said he was aware of a handful of North-East mesothelioma patients on Alimta who were still alive five years after being diagnosed with the disease.

Normally, without treatment using Alimta, mesothelioma patients are expected to die within 12 months of being told they have the disease.

Father-of-four Jeff Hurrell from Norton, near Stockton, initially had to travel to London to get Alimta as part of a clinical trial.

But since the change in policy he has got the drug on the NHS at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

Mr Hurrell, 58, said: "The Nice guidance is really bad news for patients. This has got to change.

I am really surprised at it."

Chris Knighton, from Wallsend, in North Tyneside, who set up a charity to raise money for research into mesotheliomia after losing her husband, Mick, to the disease, said the guidance was "a retrograde step".

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