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Record funding for liver cancer drugs test (The Straits Times, 25 June 2010, Pg B7)

25 Jun 2010


360 patients from 13 countries have been recruited for $10m study

A SINGAPORE-LED, large-scale clinical trial on the treatment of advanced liver cancer has probably broken the record for being the most moneyed.

The trial will be fuelled by about $10.2 million – a lump-sum gift of $8.5 million from Australian medical device company Sirtex Medical, and $1.65 million, to be disbursed over five years, from the National Medical Research Council.

Associate Professor Pierce Chow, the principal investigator on the team, has declared the funding as "one of the biggest" for a trial initiated by researchers.

He is a senior clinician-scientist with Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and a visiting consultant at the National Cancer Centre (NCC).

He and his team of medical sleuths aim to find out which of two drugs – sorafenib or SIR-Spheres – should be the first-line drug, and which the second-line, for patients with liver cancers too advanced for them to be operated on or given liver transplants.

Sorafenib, an oral drug, costs $10,000 a month as long as a liver patient is on it; SIR-Spheres, an injected radioactive therapy, costs $25,000 in a one-time cost.

A total of 360 patients from 20 hospitals and cancer centres in 13 countries have been recruited for the study.

The Singapore participants come from SGH, NCC and Changi General, Khoo Teck Puat and National University hospitals.

Patients in the trial will be divided into two groups – one on sorafenib and the other on SIR-Spheres – and their response to these drugs tracked.

Prof Chow and his team are fresh from another trial involving these drugs. That involved giving 35 participating patients a combination of the two drugs between June 2008 and June last year.

Of the 35 from Malaysia, Myanmar, South Korea and Singapore, 20 were physically here. They were followed up on once every three months.

Prof Chow said the tumours in four of five patients in that trial either shrank or did not grow any bigger, and the drugs gave them another nine to 12 months of life. He added that each drug was effective when used alone, and since that earlier trial ascertained that, the coming study was to find out which should be the drug of choice.

He and his team presented the results of the earlier trial at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago this month.

Liver cancer, one of the most lethal cancers, is highly resistant to chemotherapy. About 500 cases surface here every year, of which over a quarter are in advanced stages. Few patients make it past six months from the time of diagnosis.

Professor Soo Khee Chee, the director of NCC, said of the patients involved in the clinical trial getting sorafenib or SIR-Spheres for free: "This is a good opportunity for them to seek treatment for the disease and play a part in medical development."

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Last Modified Date :26 Sep 2013