Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Human trials begin on new liver-cancer therapy

Human trials begin on new liver-cancer therapy
17 June, 2008
Lee Hui Chieh
The Straits Times

RESEARCHERS have begun human trials on a new way to treat an advanced form of liver cancer.

Liver cancer kills 390 Singaporeans every year because more than four in five cases are diagnosed too late for surgery, which is the best treatment method.

Doctors at the National Cancer Centre (NCC) hope that the new method, a combination of two existing treatments which includes injecting a radioactive particle into the tumour, will help patients with cancers that are too advanced for surgery.

'We're trying to find a better way to treat this dismal disease that is inoperable liver cancer,' said the NCC's director, Professor Soo Khee Chee.

The centre is holding the trial with other hospitals in the Asia-Pacific region.

Patients will first undergo an operation that costs about $25,000 at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), during which doctors implant a tiny radioactive particle into the tumour, which shrinks the cancerous growth.

About two weeks later, patients start taking a pill called sorafenib, which costs $9,000 a month. Studies show that the drug has extended the lives of patients by an average of three months.

The 31 patients on the trial will not have to pay.

By combining the two treatments, doctors hope to prolong the lives of patients or improve their condition so that they can undergo surgery.

Radioactive particle maker Sirtex Medical Products and drug manufacturer Bayer Schering Pharma Singapore will each donate $1.5 million worth of their products to the trial. The National Medical Research Council has also awarded the researchers a $468,200 grant.

The trial, which was launched yesterday, is expected to take two years.

If it is successful, the NCC and other hospitals will carry out a larger trial involving several hundred patients, said Associate Professor Pierce Chow, a senior consultant surgeon at SGH who is chairing the trial's steering committee.

Working with research centres in other countries helps Singapore 'punch above its weight class', Prof Soo said.

Every year, 393 people are diagnosed with liver cancer here.

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