Alimta list may allow Thalidomide trial

The federal government subsidy of the mesothelioma drug Alimta has paved the way for a national clinical trial of follow-up treatment using the controversial drug Thalidomide.

Alimta, a chemotherapy agent, was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) on Tuesday, finally giving sufferers of the killer asbestos-related cancer access to cheap treatment.
Alimta, which can increase survival time and improve a sufferer's quality of life, has long been too expensive for many patients.

Researchers say the subsidy has paved the way for a national clinical trial of Thalidomide as a follow-up treatment for mesothelioma sufferers.

The Australian Lung Cancer Trials Group plans to recruit 100 Australians who have undergone Alimta treatment to be part of the trial, dubbed MATES (MAintenance Thalidomide in mESothelioma).

Dr Nick Pavlakis, head of oncology at the Royal North Shore Hospital, will head up the trial, which he hopes will demonstrate Thalidomide can improve the quality of life of mesothelioma patients after they have undergone Alimta chemotherapy.

"The ultimate goal is that if we prove the hypothesis of the trial, which is that Thalidomide may actually delay tumour growth and maintain quality of life, ... we could argue for Thalidomide to be given as a standard after Alimta," Dr Pavlakis told AAP.

Thalidomide was originally used in Australia in the late 1950s and early 1960s to treat morning sickness and as a sedative but was taken off the market around the world after it caused birth defects and miscarriages.

Dr Pavlakis said such risks would not be an issue in his trial because the patients were past child bearing age.

Dr Pavlakis hopes the trial, expected to take up to two years, will begin in March.
"There's not that many trials addressing improvements to Alimta internationally, so we hope to be able to contribute to patient benefit by advancing the treatment for this disease."

About 600 Australians are diagnosed annually with mesothelioma, but the long lag between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms means its prevalence is tipped to rise in the future.

Medical studies have estimated 18,000 people will have become victims of the disease by 2020.

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