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Drug makers 'dragging heels' over hearing loss.

Byline: By Lyndsay Moss

Tens of thousands of cancer patients in Britain are in danger of permanent hearing damage which could be prevented, say campaigners.

Certain types of chemotherapy crucial in saving the lives of millions of people with cancer can lead to hearing loss.

Drugs have been identified that may block the damaging effects of the chemotherapy without affecting its ability to kill cancer cells.

But the RNID, the national charity for deaf and hard of hearing people, said the pharmaceutical industry was "dragging its heels" in developing treatments to tackle the problem.

It has now produced a business report claiming that making such protective agents could generate revenues of at least pounds 500 million for the drugs industry as well as help protect cancer patients.

It has been known for some time that cisplatin - a platinum-based chemotherapy and one of the best anti-tumour treatments - can cause damage to the inner ear.

This can lead to balance problems, tinnitus and hearing loss - in some cases profound deafness.

RNID said there were ways of preventing this ototoxicity - damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear caused by drugs.

But work in this area was slow in being developed, with the pharmaceutical industry doing little to progress it further.

Munna Vio, the RNID's commercial research manager, said: "Thousands of survivors are being left with unnecessary hearing damage.

"RNID's research indicates that, if a suitable drug was approved that effectively protected against hearing loss but did not interfere with the chemotherapy, oncologists would use it across the board for all cancer treated with cisplatin.

"The pharmaceutical industry should seize this opportunity to deliver vital drugs to protect the hearing of cancer patients.

"RNID is committed to funding research into this area and is already supporting projects that could lead to new ways of protecting hearing from ototoxic drugs."

The parents of five-year-old Anthony Khodayeki, who was diagnosed with liver cancer when he was just four days old, said they were grateful that he was alive after extensive treatment with platinum-based drugs and surgery.

But John and Farideh Khodayeki said, if other patients could avoid the hearing loss he suffered, it would be a great step forward.

Mr Khodayeki said: "The last few years have been very difficult for us and we are so relieved that Anthony has survived.

"But we would urge drug companies to develop something to protect hearingduring treatment. This is another burden on the kids because deafness is still a disability and this causes difficulties in schools Dr Penelope Brock, a consultant paediatric oncologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, has been conducting research into the extent of hearing loss caused by chemotherapy for several years.

She said they had found an "alarming" level of hearing loss caused by cisplatin.

"In some cases, the hearing loss wasn't picked up and we discovered that the children were losing their hearing so badly that they were stopping speaking or not learning how to speak," Dr Brock said.

She added: "The cure rate for childhood cancer has improved considerably over past decades and now exceeds70 per cent. Cisplatin has been and will continue to be a major contributor.

"However, this cure is not without cost to the child. Permanent side effects are the most damaging, and hearing loss is one which affects everyday life and development.

"Children who survive cancer are determined to make the most of the life they have been given, but struggle to compete in an ever increasingly competitive world.

"Preventing hearing loss would transform their lives and futures."

The RNID will present its market report at the Cordia Biotechnology Convention in London tomorrow

Cisplatin is used for the treatment of about 68,000 cancer patients each year in the UK - and is used in about 30 per cent of all childhood cancers and 25 per cent of adult cancers

It is used to treat cancer including, lung, bladder, ovary, testis, liver and bone

It is estimated that at least a quarter of children treated with the drug suffer some hearing loss or tinnitus, though some studies suggest it may be as high as 100 per cent over time

In adults, it is estimated that hearing problems could be found in between 11 per cent and 91 per cent of those treated with cisplatin

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Five-year-old Anthony Khodayeki whose treatment for liver cancer has left him with significant hearing loss
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 10, 2005
Words:734
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