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Mesothelioma

Wonder Drug's Double Whammy

Patients living for years rather than just months

Cancer wonder drug Alimta is better than previously thought.

The drug can keep people with asbestos-related lung cancer alive for up to five years rather than just months as previously thought.

Professor Hilary Calvert, who headed the team at Newcastle University which developed Alimta, the first treatment which can shrink tumours caused by cancer mesothelioma, believes it can be improved further.

Thanks to the efforts of patients and professionals, who backed a Chronicle campaign, the drug is now available on the NHS.

Prof Hilary believes there is evidence to suggest it can keep patients who were expected to die within 12 months, alive for up to five years.

At a seminar at Newcastle, Prof Calvert said: "Up to 50% of patients given Alimta for mesothelioma respond to this treatment.

"The average patients lives about an extra six months, but we do get a few patients who go on for quite a few years."

Scientists are now studying this group at the Cancer Research UK funded research centre at Newcastle University.

Prof Calvert added: "We are getting a double whammy in these patients and we think it is because of their genes and the way Alimta affects the genes of their tumour.

"The tools are there and I think we are getting to a period where we will see major advances."

The results are good for people like Arthur Tiffin, 52, from Walbottle, Newcastle, who fought to get Alimta on the NHS.

He believes Alimta, which he started taking in January, allowed him to see his son, Steve's wedding last month.

"When I was diagnosed it looked like I wasn't going to live until Christmas," said former off-shore piping manager Arthur, who is married to Cora, 52.

"But the doctor in London who is giving me Alimta now thinks he will see me again next Christmas.

"Alimta has extended my expectations without a doubt."

Grandad-of-four Stan Easton, 69, from North Shields, was the first to be given Alimta on the NHS at North Tyneside General, when his first session started in January.

"I'm very happy with Alimta and all the staff giving me the treatment at the hospital have been great," said Stan.

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

But those suffering from the illness were given hope when the Northern Cancer Network gave Alimta the green light. It works by interfering with the ability of the mesothelioma tumour cells to reproduce.