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Widow Joins Anti-Asbestos Drug Battle

Byline: By Liz Hands Health Correspondent The Journal (Newcastle, England), July 1, 2006

The widow of a Royal Navy serviceman who died from asbestos-related cancer has donated pounds 100,000 to research in a bid to turn around a "shocking" decision by the national NHS drugs body.

Mick Knighton died, aged 60, in 2001 and his devastated wife Chris set up a fund in his name a year later to raise money for research into mesothelioma.

Chris, 59, has now raised almost pounds 170,000 and is donating pounds 100,000 to Professor Hilary Calvert, clinical director of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, and his team.

Prof Calvert developed the life-extending cancer drug Alimta for mesothelioma sufferers with trials showing it shrank tumours in 40-45% of patients.

The drug was made available to patients in the North-East last year, but Nice (the national institute of clinical excellence) recommended this week that Alimta should no longer be available on the NHS.

Chris and Prof Calvert hope that Nice, due to make a final decision in September, can be persuaded to make a U-turn in light of the new project.

Prof Calvert is aiming to make Alimta even more effective by discovering which patients will benefit most from the treatment.

"Mesothelioma sufferers have to fight every step of the way," Chris said yesterday.

"We already had to fight over compensation ( and now we've got this shocking recommendation from Nice.

"We're incredibly concerned that having seen Alimta made available in the North-East, there is now this question mark hanging over it again."

She is urging people to write to their MPs to lobby them to challenge the Nice recommendation.

Prof Calvert said he did not wish to comment on Nice guidance, but added: "If we can identify who exactly will benefit from Alimta, it will be more cost-effective for the NHS."

The research is likely to take two years and will focus on looking at particular genes and proteins present in mesothelioma to see how they react to Alimta.

"Having been involved from the very start of Alimta's development, it's very exciting to have the opportunity to refine it in this way," he said.

Chris is continuing to raise funds and hopes to donate money to other mesothelioma research projects.

She said the vast majority of the cash so far had been raised by people in the region because "mesothelioma has touched an awful lot of families in the North-East".

Northern Cancer Network, which decides what cancer treatments should be available in the region, has said it will stage a review into Alimta when Nice releases its final decision in September.