Wednesday 17 January 2018

New cancer drug now available in Ireland 'offers hope' for patients with rare blood cancers

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Meadhbh McGrath

A new cancer drug has been made available to Irish patients with three rare forms of blood cancer following a successful trial last year.

Imbruvica, the brand name for ibrutinib, is a once-daily oral treatment that has been proven to prolong survival for adult patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and Waldenstrom’s macroglobulineamia (WM).

The trial was carried out among nine patients at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, and led by consultant haematologist Dr Patrick Thornton.

Blood cancers account for around 10pc of all deaths from cancer, with most deaths a result of the relapsed drug-resistant cancer.

Approximately 200 people in Ireland are diagnosed with CLL each year, while 38 are diagnosed with MCL and 12 with WM, according to figures from the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI).

The diseases are so complex that patients often have limited treatment options and do not respond well to conventional therapies.

Albert Kavanagh, a CLL sufferer, took part in the trial after his cancer proved to be very difficult to treat.

“I was diagnosed 16 years ago. I was treated with chemotherapy at that stage and it was successful,” he told RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

“I went into remission for eight years and it came back again.”

He received two forms of chemotherapy that were unsuccessful, before being placed on the clinical trial.

“It’s worked very well, no complaints. My blood tests are back to normal, no side effects, nothing like that,” he said.

“I’m fit, well, doing everything. It keeps me going, I do a lot of walking and I used to do an awful lot of swimming, which I’m going to start up again.”

Dr Thornton said Albert’s story is “very typical” for CLL patients.

“Chemotherapy will work at first for a lot of patients but when the disease comes back very frequently the chemotherapy doesn’t work or doesn’t work for as long,” he told the programme.

Speaking about the release of ibrutinib, Mr Thornton said the effect of the drug could be life-changing.

“I have patients from this trial who are alive and doing well, whom I believe wouldn’t have survived without this therapy,” he said.

“The treatment represents a complete paradigm shift in the treatment of leukaemia. It offers hope for the most difficult-to-treat people with various chromosomal deletions that normally do very badly or are resistant to chemotherapy.”

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