It seems that almost every day there is a story in the newspapers about some new breakthrough in cancer treatment that is forecast to be revolutionary and change cancer treatment for ever ………… and then you never hear of it again.
The reason usually is that the treatment needs to go through various stages of clinical trials before being made generally available, this process is long and expensive and so is only undertaken when there is a prospect of recovering the costs and making a profit. Today’s wonder treatment is unlikely to available in the average cancer patient’s lifespan. Also, the treatment of cancer is secondary to the cost (and profit) considerations.
On Monday last week I read the first of that week’s crop of such stories but this made me sit up and take notice. The Times ran a story where the headline was:
Patients asked to pay thousands for cancer drug trial
I thought that sounded odd so I read on, it turns out that the headline gives the wrong impression. I initially thought it was an exposure of some organisation peddling some quackery as a cure for cancer, but it’s actually a study backed by some eminent and qualified oncologists who so far have been unable to get funding, so the patients are having to pay. Also, the costs have been somewhat exaggerated, after the initial consultation fee, the cost is £200 every 3 months – not the end of the world, its less than Sky TV.
Essentially the purpose of the trial is to show that a combination of commonly available, out of patent, drugs can be used to fight pretty much any kind of cancer. Because the drugs are out of patent they cost next to nothing; great for the patient but not so great for the pharmaceutical companies who won’t make any money out of it.
You would think that the NHS would fund this as the costs are low and the potential costs savings for the NHS are massive, but they are apparently not interested. You would think that one of the cancer charities, who spend so much time crowing about how they are trying to beat cancer, would be interested, but they are not. Most cancer charities raise money to fund research by the pharmaceutical companies so as there isn’t any money in out of patent drugs they are not going to fund this trial.
Anyway the trial itself looked interesting, the term used for this sort of treatment is “drug re-purposing” as the drugs are not usually prescribed for treating cancer. Here’s the useful part of The Times article:
The study, which has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, is the first in which patients have been asked to pay to be included. It has been proposed out of desperation because the four drugs are not patented and there is no commercial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to fund an NHS trial that would cost many millions of pounds.
The four drugs on trial are statins, which are normally used for heart disease; metformin, which is routinely used to treat diabetes; the antibiotic doxycycline, normally used for acne; and an anti-parasitic drug called mebendazole, used to treat intestinal worms in children. Trials around the world have shown that all four drugs can target and destroy fast-replicating cancer cells, but they are not routinely issued to cancer patients.
The trial is being led by Justin Stebbing, of Imperial College London, and will be carried out at the private Care Oncology Clinic (COC) in London.
Professor Stebbing said that the trial subjects could be suffering from any form of cancer. They will take the drugs on top of whatever anti-cancer drug treatment they are already receiving. He said: “There’s a lot of existing data on these drugs showing they improve cancer survival. We have enough data ourselves to publish already from what we have done so far, but the new trial will start within six months.”
So I gave Professor Stebbing a google and he seems to know what he’s talking about, and I looked at the people running the study; Care Oncology Clinic and they too seem above board. The thing that really attracted me to this was the fact that everyone on the study gets the treatment, clinical trials always give a large proportion of the patients a placebo which is why I’ve steered clear of them; I don’t want to prove someone right by dying.
With everything looking good I gave Care oncology a call and set in motion a chain of events that is only possible in private medicine. By coincidence I was staying in London from Tuesday to Friday last week; I called the clinic on Monday morning; they told me what information they needed; I spoke to my oncologist’s secretary on Monday afternoon to get the required information and then put the clinic in touch with them as there was some initial reluctance to release my medical information (not a bad thing). On Tuesday afternoon the clinic let me know that they had all the information they needed; on Wednesday morning I phoned them, explained I was in London and could they see me before Friday afternoon; I was given an appointment on Thursday at midday! Try that with the NHS sometime.
On Thursday I had a consultation of an hour and a half where the study was explained together with the science behind combining the drugs, I did my best to keep up but it all made sense. One of the enlightening things was the explanation of how cancer cells evolve to defend themselves against the immune system and other forms of attack. Apparently some of the cancer miracles that are reported where people undergo some form of intensive treatment followed by an all clear are generally followed some time later by a much more aggressive cancer because the few cells that were missed evolved to resist pretty much anything. It can be better to slowly chip away at your cancer, varying the treatment, to have more chance of success.
One of the really impressive things was that they had actually read all my notes and looked at my scans before my appointment, something that hasn’t always been the case during my NHS journey.
This slow attack on cancer is the main aim of combining these drugs as they all act on different actions of a cancer cell rather than directly attack the cell itself, this weakens it so the immune system can do its work. I like the approach that your body can fix your body with just a little help. Also, because the drugs have been in use for a number of years, their side effects are known and are pretty limited. Each of the drugs acts as follows (again from The Times article):
- Statins: Boost production of cell-death proteins normally knocked out of cancer cells; reduce the availability of cholesterol needed for production in tumour cells
- Metformin: Blocks a cell-signalling pathway used for the replication of cancer cells; alters the effect of malfunctioning proteins that promote immortality in cancer cells
- Doxycycline: Breaks down energy-giving mitochondria; blocks activity that lets cancer cells migrate
- Mebendazole: Fatally disrupts structures needed for cancer cells to divide; activates cell-death proteins
I signed up and the drugs arrived before I got home!
I have high hopes for this new regime and the plus is that I can continue doing pretty much what I’ve already been doing. This type of work has been reported for some time but it is the first time I’ve seen it.
An update on my progress is that I’ve found that I am still not very tolerant of the laetrile and the apricot kernels so I’ve dropped the dose of both. Other than that I’m still recovering from a bout of man-flu (yes, it is real) but hope to be rid of that this week.
After 2 weeks of taking the drugs with no problems the dose of a couple of them was increased (in accordance with the protocol, not on a whim!). A week later I had every side effect listed for each drug, so I’ve stopped taking them and doubt I’ll start again. Details here.