Wonder Drug poses ethical dilemma for HK
Leukaemia patients will benefit, but we must decide if we can afford the costs, says doctor
Hong Kong must decide if it can afford millions of dollars to pay for a leukaemia 'wonder drug', according to a leading specialist.
Glivec, which has been on trial in Hong Kong, has proved hugely successful in stopping the spread of chronic myeloid leukaemia, which affects about 100 people a year and normally kills within four years.
The oral drug - which costs $16,000 to $20,000 per patient per month - is already being given free in Britain and some European countries and is widely used in the US, where health insurance usually covers the cost of the treatment.
However, in Hong Kong sufferers have to pay for the drug themselves in public hospitals, although they can apply to charities to help them meet the costs.
The drug blocks signals within cancer cells and prevents them from multiplying. It has to be taken by a patient for the rest of his or her life - working out at more than $200,000 per patient per year.
Bone marrow transplants, which have a 60 per cent success rate, cost about $300,000 each but are difficult to perform in Hong Kong because small families make it hard to find suitable donors.
Professor Kwong Yok-lam, of the University of Hong Kong's division of haematology, who tested the drug, said 60 to 70 per cent of Hong Kong patients treated with Glivec had shown substantial improvement within the first year. Some experienced total remission
Although a longer test period is still needed, he believed there was strong evidence to suggest it could cure patients rather than just extend their lives, which is the most other drugs have been able to achieve.
'It is one of the most important breakthroughs in cancer treatment in the past five to 10 years,' said Professor Kwong. 'We can't guarantee it will be a cure - we have to wait a few more years to see if the patients survive longer than one...
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