The Irish health service should embrace the use of free clinical trials as part of its programme for treating blood cancers like multiple myeloma, a US expert has said.
Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that arises from plasma cells – the white blood cells that are responsible for producing antibodies. The cancer causes overproduction of antibody producing plasma cells leading to problems such as anaemia, kidney failure and bone damage.
Ireland currently has one of the highest incidences in the world of multiple myeloma. Around 250 people are newly diagnosed here every year.
Speaking at the recent launch of a new charity helping those affected – Multiple Myeloma Ireland – Dr Jacob Peter Lau Bach of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, emphasised that access to new treatments is essential if a cure is to be found.
He explained that the institute in Boston ‘works closely with Irish clinicians and pharmaceutical companies in trialling new medicines for a range of blood cancers including Multiple Myeloma’.
“Proof is evident as we see patient life expectancy rising considerably every year. By providing patients with access to the free clinical trials of the very latest pharmaceutical technology, they increase their ability to manage blood cancers and, in turn, save the Irish health services millions every year,” he insisted.
He added that if access to such clinical trials was expanded in Ireland, ‘over €4 million could be saved every year’.
The new charity – Multiple Myeloma Ireland – was launched by a group of Irish doctors, nurses and carers involved in the treatment of this disease. It aims to raise awareness and promote the innovative treatments that are currently available to treat it.
According to the group’s chairman, Dr Peter O’Gorman, a consultant haematologist at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, survival rates relating to this type of cancer have doubled in the last four years.
“This success is due to our patients having access to best treatments currently provided by the HSE. This access must continue or survival rates will fall. The clinical trials programme, run by All-Ireland Cooperative Oncology Research Group (ICORG), gets early access to new therapies through strong collaborative research networks between Ireland and the US and Europe,” he explained.
He said that these clinical trials, which are provided free of charge, ‘are providing the HSE with considerable savings and it is important that the HSE and the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) continue to invest in trial facilities and staff in Ireland’.
Meanwhile, recent research showed that just 4% of the public knew about this disease, which is why raising awareness is so important.
“We will bring together the various support groups, such as the Irish Cancer Society, and healthcare professionals to promote early diagnosis of multiple myeloma and to share the international experience and research on the best care for patients and the management of the cancer,” commented one of the charity’s founders, Mary Kelly, an advanced nurse practitioner in haematology at Tullamore General Hospital in Offaly.