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Let Us Use It

Let Us Use It.  Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), November 1, 2006

Byline: By Jane Picken

Health chiefs are again deliberating over if to make an anti-cancer drug, developed in the North East, available on the NHS.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) is deciding whether to give Alimta, developed by a team at Newcastle University, the green light.

It's the latest development in months of wrangling over the chemotherapy drug, which could help prolong the lives of people suffering from the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma.

The appeal for early use to Nice, by Alimta makers Eli Lilly and the Royal College of Nursing, has been backed by scores of MPs, including Fraser Kemp, MP for Houghton and Washington East, and Blaydon MP, David Anderson.

North East cancer patients wanting to use Alimta are also calling for Nice's most recent ruling to be overturned. Grandad-of-eight, Alan Thorpe, of Seaton Delaval, had begun a course of Alimta before Nice decided to stop its free use on the NHS.

"The drug has worked well for me and according to a CT scan my tumours have shrunk, so I'm hoping to take it again," explained former electrician Alan, 63, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in March, at North Tyneside General Hospital.

"It's given me a new lease of life, as before I could barely walk. Since I took Alimta I've left my wheelchair in the garage. But I have to wait and see what Nice says. I really need this decision to be in my favour."

The appeal also comes as trials are due to start on a new form of Alimta in Newcastle this week.

Led by Professor Hilary Calvert, of Newcastle University, researchers will work with 100 North East patients to find better ways of using the drug, which the Chronicle campaigned for last year.

Earlier this month the Department of Health and Cancer Research UK announced they were giving pounds 2m to Newcastle University in a bid to create an experimental cancer drug centre.

The money will help turn scientific advances into treatments as quickly as possible for North cancer sufferers.

Chris Knighton, of Wallsend, has also raised money, totaling pounds 200,000, for research into the drug after her husband Mick died from mesothelioma in 2001.

"This drug has proved to be effective and it's cruel to think this could be denied to sufferers," said Chris, 59, who now runs the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Fund.

"We can only pray Nice's decision is changed but people with mesothelioma don't have time to wait for Nice to make up their minds. This adds stress and concern to patients and their families."

Nice, which licenses and approves drugs for the NHS, decided not to recommend Alimta for free use in June, despite the Northern Cancer Network making it available last year.

Doctors appealed to Nice last week to change their ruling and a decision is expected in weeks.