UK Mesothelioma Drug Trials: Some Progress 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The publication on August 13th, 2002 of a paper1 about UK clinical trials for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma has led to newspaper reports such as: "Drugs found to prolong asbestos victims’ life." The data, according to some experts, is too slim to support these claims. A cure for mesothelioma has not been found by researchers in Newcastle and it would be wrong to hold out false hope to mesothelioma patients and their families. On average, patients treated with a combination of ALIMTA (pemetrexed), and cisplatin survived for 13 to 14 months, slightly longer than previously. Mavis Robinson, founder and head of the Mesothelioma Information Project, says that the real significance of this research is the efficacy these drugs have for symptom control. Professor Hilary Calvert’s team found that 70% of patients reported an improvement in symptoms usually after only two courses of chemotherapy.

Promising preliminary results have also been reported by doctors conducting trials with ALIMTA in the US and Scandinavia. The drug has not yet been licensed for general use in the US or UK. According to Dr Steven Knowles, Ontological Advisor for Eli Lilly, approval by the Federal Drugs Administration is anticipated shortly. Knowles is optimistic that the drug will be available to physicians in the UK for first line treatment of mesothelioma patients by the end of the year.

A day after the developments were announced, the insurance press put their own spin on the story. The headline: ‘New mesothelioma treatment will increase asbestos claims’ was emblazoned across the front page of the August 14th edition of Insurance Day. Legal and insurance experts explained the knock-on effects of the new treatment for the insurance industry. Solicitor Fiona Gill, a specialist in product liability, said: "Unfortunately for insurers, prolonging the life of a terminally ill patient will have the consequence of increasing the damages award, as the period of pain and suffering - general damages - will be longer and more nursing care - special damages - will be required. Both are recoverable heads of damages in a personal injury claim." An insurance analyst was more blunt: "This could increase insurers’ costs, because it would lead to more medical attention, and the longer people suffer, the more insurers pay."

August 16, 2002


1 Phase 1 Clinical and Pharmacokinetic Study of Pemetrexed and Carboplatin in Patients With Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma by Andy Hughes, Paula Calvert et al Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 20, Issue 16 (August), 2002: 3533-3544.



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