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Prison cash better spent on patients; Cancer 2020.

Byline: By Emma Brady Health Reporter

Two of Britain's leading cancer experts entered the debate over the annual costs of jailing prisoners, claiming the money would be better spent on treating cancer patients.

Professor Herbie Newell, Cancer Research UK's director of translational research, spoke out during the National Cancer Research Institute's conference in Birmingham, which ended yesterday.

In a discussion on the "golden age" of breast cancer drugs, which are set to be more effective and expensive, he said society should dictate how much is spent on new therapies.

Prof Newell said: "This is why we need the Government to commit to a new Cancer Plan, to stop them from duck ing these issues.

"It apparently costs pounds 36,000 a year to keep someone in prison, but personally I would like to see that money spent on treating a breast cancer patient with one of these new drugs. Ultimately, I think it's a question of how much our society is prepared to pay."

The Birmingham Post has joined forces with Cancer Research UK for its Cancer 2020 campaign, which is call ing for the Government to draw up a new cancer plan to protect funding of treatment, research and cancer services until at least 2020.

Alex Markham, the chari ty's chief executive, said Her-ceptin put drug pricing on the political agenda but newer treatments like Tykerb, a once-a-day pill which can halve the growth of breast cancers, are making it "the number one issue".

He said: "We're now enter ing a phase where discussions over drug pricing are now right at the top of the political agenda.

"It's not been a high profile issue until recently, in the light of Herceptin, as our rate of developing and approving new drugs is relatively low - but we're at the point where this needs to be addressed."

Mr Markham explained that when news of "a new cancer hope" breaks in the media, often before it is widely available to patients, it creates a debate over "postcode prescribing".

But as the efficacy of drugs like Tykerb and Avastin, which can inhibit the growth of breast cancers, is proven the ability to fund these for patients is an issue that must be resolved.

He added: "There are sev eral reasons for this. Firstly, the number of new effective agents becoming available is going to be very high, as years of research and trials are finally bearing fruit.

"Secondly recent evidence shows that these are going to be very expensive and, frank ly, how do we justify charging pounds 83,000 a year's course of Avastin?

"Also these new drugs may well be different to previous generations in that they may not become so cheap and easily available once their patents expire if five or ten years' time.

"Some drugs like Tamoxifen is 'cheap as chips' to make, but newer treatments may not be as affordable in future."

Perpective, page 11 emma brady@mrn.co.uk

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A radiation therapist uses a microtron to treat a cancer patient and an inmate looks out of the window of Winson Green gymnasium
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 12, 2006
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