Lilly UK announced today that Alimta( (pemetrexed) will be available shortly for the treatment of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs for which there is no known cure. Pemetrexed is the first licenced treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma, in combination with cisplatin.
Most mesothelioma patients have a life expectancy of five months at the time of diagnosis. In a recent clinical trial, patients treated with pemetrexed and cisplatin lived longer than those treated with cisplatin alone.
Mesothelioma is a particularly lethal form of cancer that is usually caused as a result of exposure to asbestos. Most patients who develop mesothelioma have a history of working in industries where there was a risk of asbestos exposure, such as shipping, mining or insulation. Mesothelioma occurs decades after exposure.
Professor Hilary Calvert, of the Northern Institute of Cancer Research, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, comments, "This form of cancer is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage at which point treatment with radiation therapy or surgery is not an option. Most of the patients I see only have a life expectancy after diagnosis of only a matter of months."
He adds, "Until now there has been no licenced chemotherapy available and patients have been more likely to have treatment aimed to relieve the symptoms rather than to control the disease."
New cases of mesothelioma are increasing rapidly in the UK. It is estimated that over 1,700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually in the UK alone. This figure is likely to rise each year and peak up to 2,500 patients in 2015 due to the delay between exposure to asbestos, which is responsible for nearly all cases, and onset of the disease.
Analysis indicates that many mesothelioma deaths are due to previous high asbestos exposure in industries such as shipbuilding and railway engineering. Because of the regionality of these types of industries and consequent high asbestos exposure, mesothelioma deaths in Britain vary considerably.
The areas of high incidence include London, Glasgow, Newcastle, Greater Manchester, Plymouth and Hampshire.
Dr Mark Britton, Chairman of the British Lung Foundation, comments, "The news that a patient has mesothelioma has a devastating impact on them, their partner and family. Patient organisations such as the British Lung Foundation can do much to meet families' need for support and information."
Asbestos was once known as the 'miracle mineral' because the naturally occurring silicate has excellent heat resistant properties and can be spun like cotton, turned into boards or incorporated into concrete products. The use of asbestos in potentially hazardous circumstances was prohibited in the UK in 1986. Its use was widespread in houses, factories and ships. The substance was only finally banned in the UK in 1999 and leaves a lethal legacy for thousands of working men and women.
Pemetrexed will be commercially available in the UK at the end of this year or the start of 2005.