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Rare cancer drug released
2005-12-19 - Beijing - CHINA could face a large increase in the incidence of a rare but deadly form of cancer linked to asbestos by 2030 if it doesn't take proper measures to rid buildings of the material, doctors said over the weekend.
US-based Eli Lilly announced over the weekend that it has introduced Alimta, the world's first medication to treat the asbestos-related malign pleural mesothelioma, or MPM, a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings.
Currently, about 10,000 to 15,000 people are diagnosed with MPM annually around the world.
"Though many western countries have banned several asbestos products, the international medical community estimated a MPM peak in 2010 in the United States and in 2020 in Europe," said Dr Liao Meilin from Shanghai Chest Hospital.
The incidence in China is still as low as three to five in every 1 million, but the incidence rate is on the rise and should peak around 2030, since asbestos is still used in many industries and workers don't adopt proper protection, experts said.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. It can be found in older homes, pipe and furnace insulation materials, asbestos shingles and other coating materials.
Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodeling activities. Most people with asbestos-related diseases were exposed to elevated concentrations on the job; some developed disease from exposure to clothing and equipment brought home from job sites.
"There is no immediate symptoms, but patients can develop chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases in 20 to 40 years," Liao said.
Teacher's Star Pupil Retires from Cancer Research
Retired Woodstock High School teacher Ray Schultz displayed fatherly pride last week as he discussed the most recent accomplishment of his 57-year-old son, Richard Schultz, a microbiologist who earlier this year edited a significant book chronicling progress in drug research.
"Advances in Targeted Cancer Therapy" reflects major advances in the understanding of molecular and tumor biology.
Richard Schultz recently retired after a 25-year career in the cancer-research division of Lilly Research Laboratories in Indianapolis. He earlier worked for five years at National Cancer Institute and then as a research associate at the University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine.
His father points with pride to his son's success in discovering two drugs Alimta and Gemzar marketed by Eli Lilly and amounting to more than $1 billion in sales.
This newest book is one of several materials Richard Schultz has produced. He's published more than 100 research papers on host defense mechanism and novel therapeutics in cancer.
Many Woodstock residents will remember the future microbiologist as a drummer with the high school band and high school football player. During the summer he detassled corn for Hughes Hybrids. While at the University of Illinois, he was a rugby player and Regimental Band member.
Ray Schultz taught business at Woodstock High School from 1953 to 1980. He recently compiled an interesting personal biography.
"I made a half-dozen copies," he said. "I gave one to the Woodstock Public Library."
Lung cancer drug 'gets go-ahead'
Patients across the north east of England are to be given a potentially life-saving lung cancer drug.
2005/12/09 - Regional health bosses have lifted restrictions on Alimta to be given to people with mesothelioma.
The decision by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Strategic Health Authority was made just days after a Teesside man's case was highlighted by the BBC.
The drug can extend a patient's life by up to four months, but is not a cure for the disease.
"It is important for every case to be considered individually by the consultant and patient together", Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Strategic Health Authority spokeswoman
It is given to patients in some areas such as London, but in the north east, which has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma, health trusts had initially ruled they could not justify funding it.
The cancer is caused by asbestos, which many people were exposed to when the shipbuilding and steel industries were thriving.
The SHA, which oversees the region's NHS trusts, said it would be given to patients where doctors consider it "clinically appropriate".
A spokeswoman said: "It is important for every case to be considered individually by the consultant and patient together.
"Where the shared decision is that Alimta should be prescribed, it is recommended that it should be provided free of charge by the NHS."
The ruling covers NHS trusts in County Durham, Tees Valley, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.
Mesothelioma patient Colin Graves, who may only have months to live, told the BBC earlier this week he could not understand why the NHS was not funding it in the north east.
Story from BBC NEWS:
'I want to live as long as I can'
By Gill Higgins
BBC health correspondent
These are precious times for Colin Graves. He has a type of lung cancer called mesothelioma. And he may only have a few months to live.
"You want to see as much of your children as you can, to be with your family as long as you can.
"I'm going to miss all that."
But a drug called Alimta might help him live a bit longer.
"To me they're saying life has so much cost and, if you go over that, it's not worth it", Colin Graves
It is given to patients in some areas like London. But Colin has been told he cannot get it in Teesside even though the North East has one of the highest rates of this type of cancer.
Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos, which many people were exposed to when the shipbuilding and steel industries were thriving.
But the health trusts in the region have joined together and decided they cannot justify funding this drug.
Dr John Docherty of Langbaurgh Primary Care Trust, which covers the area where Colin Graves lives, said: "Added to existing treatment it prolongs life by between four and 16 weeks.
"I accept for partners and families this is a big benefit, but it does not cure mesothelioma."
This is a decision Colin finds hard to accept.
"It is wrong to keep denying them", Jeremy Steele, Mesothelioma UK
He says: "I'm angry, angry - and upset.
"To me they're saying life has so much cost and, if you go over that, it's not worth it."
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) was set up to end the patchy availability of drugs. It makes decisions which apply to the whole NHS in England and Wales.
But the process can take years.
There have already been concerns around the availability of the breast cancer drug herceptin.
NICE argues that in that instance there is nothing it can do, as the drug does not have a European licence for use in the treatment of early stage breast cancer.
But Herceptin is just one high profile example. NICE's decisions affect the availability of dozens of cancer drugs, with a direct impact for thousands of patients.
Jeremy Steele, a cancer specialist and chairman of Mesothelioma UK, says: "Advances are spectacular and not being able to use them is disappointing and sad, particularly for patients.
"It is wrong to keep denying them for organisational reasons."
But Colin is being denied treatment.
If he lives until next summer, it is likely he would get Alimta once it has been nationally approved.
But right now, it is out of reach.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Revealed: Scots patients denied cancer drugs
SCOTTISH cancer patients are being denied access to at least seven potentially life-saving new drugs on cost grounds and as a result of health service bureaucracy.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that, since March, three key cancer-beating drugs have been rejected for use in the NHS because they were not considered "cost-effective".
Over the same period, at least a further four highly effective anti-cancer medicines have been approved at national level but are still awaiting authorisation by local health boards.
The failure to make these new treatments available on the NHS has been condemned as "outrageous" and could result in the needless deaths of hundreds of patients in the coming months.
Last week, Elaine Barber from Stoke-on-Trent, won her court battle to be prescribed the breast cancer 'wonder drug' Herceptin, which carries a price tag of £21,000 per treatment.
But an investigation by this newspaper has revealed that within the past week, officials at the Scottish Medicines Consortium turned down the NHS use of another new wonder drug, Taxotere, for treating prostate cancer as they did not consider it cost-effective at £6,000 a treatment.
They said that while the drug could improve the survival of 365 Scottish patients by an average of 2.4 months, improve pain control and the quality of life, costs would stretch to more than £3m over five years.
Earlier this year the authority also rejected the breast cancer drug Gemzar and the colorectal hormone therapy Erbitux on similar grounds.
But even when drugs are approved for use, layers of crippling NHS bureaucracy are causing critical delays before patients can begin receiving treatment.
A Scotland on Sunday investigation has revealed patients in some areas of the country are still waiting for drugs up to 10 months after they were approved for use nationally.
The delays occur because once experts at the regulating authority, the Scottish Medicines Consortium, approve a drug for use, individual health boards then carry out their own assessments.
It means that even though a drug has been given the green-light for NHS funding, it can take months before health boards agree to offer it.
Meanwhile, patients who are prepared to pay for private treatment can get access to drugs as soon as they are given a license in the UK without having to wait for bureaucrats to approve them.
In one example, oncologists in Greater Glasgow are still waiting for permission to prescribe two powerful drugs for treating early stage breast cancer. The drugs, Femara and Aromasin, were approved for use in Scotland in February 2005 and October 2005 respectively.
Doctors in Lanarkshire are also waiting for authorisation from health board officials later this month before they can give lung cancer patients the drug Alimta, which was approved for use in July this year.
In NHS Lothian, health board officials are still to evaluate the breast cancer drug Arimidex while most other health boards already allow its use.
Jenny Whelan, head of the CancerBACUP Scotland, said: "This means that in one area a treatment that has been approved may be offered more readily than treatments in another area. For the patients this is deeply unfair."