Scientist Reveals His Hopes for Better Tumour Treatment
By Barry Nelson, RedOrbit, March 3, 2006
The North-East scientist who developed the world's first effective treatment for asbestosrelated lung cancer believes the drug can be made more effective.
Professor Hilary Calvert headed the team at Newcastle University that came up with Alimta, the first chemotherapy drug to shrink tumours caused by asbestos-related mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a fatal lung disease triggered by past exposure to inhaled asbestos fibres. The UK is experiencing a rise in mesothelioma cases, with about 2,000 a year.
The North-East, with its history of shipbuilding and heavy industry, has the biggest concentration of mesothelioma cases in the country.
After patients threatened to take legal action over access to Alimta, the drug was made increasingly available.
Until now, it has been seen as a way of securing a few extra months for terminally ill patients.
Prof Calvert believes the drug can be improved to provide longer term survival for some patients.
The evidence of this is that several Alimta patients are still alive five years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is usually fatal within 12 months.
Prof Calvert, speaking at a seminar in Newcastle organised by the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Fund charity, said: "Up to 50 per cent of patients given Alimta for mesothelioma respond to this treatment.
"The average patient lives about an extra six months, but we do get a few patients who go on for quite a few years."
It is this small group of patients that scientists at the Cancer Research UKfunded research centre at Newcastle University are now studying to see if their survival can help people.
Prof Calvert believes some patients are doing particularly well because of the way Alimta acts with their genes and those in their tumour.
He said: "We are getting a double whammy in these patients and we think it is because of their genes and the way that Alimta affects the genes of their tumour. One of the keys to the future will be to test the genes of the cancer and come up with more personalised treatment."
He sounded an optimistic note about future treatment options, and said: "The tools are there and I think we are getting to a period where we will see major advances."
Alimta works by interfering with the ability of the mesothelioma tumour cells to reproduce.
Some tumour cells get around this by interacting with healthy surrounding cells, but in a small number of patients, Alimta appears to cut off this supply as well.