Hunter trials for melanoma and MS drugs spur PBS listing

Dec 2 2013

Peter Lynn

Clinical research trials involving patients from the Hunter Region have helped get medications for melanoma and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from December 1.

The cancer drug Tafinlar has been found to shrink tumours in those with BRAF-positive melanoma, significantly extending their lifespan.

Its PBS listing has been welcomed by Lake Macquarie resident Peter Lynn, 70, who embarked on a clinical trial four years ago through the Calvary Mater Newcastle and, defying odds, is still fit enough to travel and play golf.

Describing Tafinlar as a “miracle”, Mr Lynn says the treatment shrank his tumours by 64 per cent within a month of starting the therapy.

“I would have died three years past, I’ve dodged a bullet, it’s a miracle,” Mr Lynn says.

HMRI melanoma researcher Dr Nikola Bowden said that around half of melanoma cases were BRAF-positive.

“It’s great to see that this drug is freely available and affordable, because not everyone can participate in a clinical trial,” she said. “Four or five years ago there was no effective treatment for melanoma – this is one of the first of the new drugs to show response.”

Peter remains in awe of the research work being done by Dr Bowden’s team and others.

“My granddaughter and grandson have a 70 to 75 per cent chance of getting melanoma, simply because they essentially have the same fair skin as previous generations,” he said. “To me it’s about insuring that somebody does something to help the Nikola’s of the world.”

Meanwhile, HMRI neurologist Associate Professor Jeannette Lechner-Scott was involved in the trials for an oral medication called TECFIDERA which reduces the frequency of MS relapses and delays disability progression. She says it offers hope for the future.

“Different patients respond to different medications so having new options is important in maximising positive results for patients,” Associate Professor Lechner-Scott said. “Having access to new oral medications and different treatment options is very helpful.”

Sue Anthony, a Hunter Region MS sufferer who took part in the HMRI trial, has had no further relapses.

“I was finding it was intolerable to bear the injection site reactions from the injection therapy, so for me to have an oral therapy available was a no-brainer,” she told ABC radio. “It’s great having a drug that’s more easily tolerated, rather than the injection therapy.

“Not having any episodes documented for some time is very empowering to me, it’s less worry for me, it’s not always in the back of my mind anymore, and the staff at HMRI have been fantastic and very supportive throughout the trial.”

Approximately 35,000 patients have been treated globally with TECFIDERA.

Full information is available at www.pbs.gov.au