Treatment for nose and throat cancer to be tested in HK

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 May, 2007, 12:00am

The world's first clinical trial of a treatment for a cancer that ravages the nose and throat and is one of the leading killers in Guangdong will be launched in Hong Kong soon.

The treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer, developed in Australia, works by stimulating the immune system to 'train' blood to attack and kill cancer cells.

Queensland Institute of Medical Research is conducting the tests on Hong Kong patients because of the prevalence of the disease in the region. Its director, Michael Good, said the blood would be taken to Australia, where its immune killer cells would be trained to eradicate the cancer cells.

'The patients' killer cells will then be returned to Hong Kong and injected back into trial patients to stimulate their own immune system to identify nasopharyngeal carcinoma as foreign and destroy the tumour cells,' he said.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma - or Guangdong cancer - is one of the top four cancer killers in the province.

In Hong Kong, the incidence is 13 in every 100,000 people a year, according to Daniel Chua Tsin-tien, associate professor of clinical oncology at the University of Hong Kong.

He estimated there were about 900 to 1,000 new cases in Hong Kong every year. The mortality rate is about 33 per cent.

Dr Chua said the trial would start on 30 patients at Queen Mary Hospital in two to three months and the first phase would end in 18 months to two years.

'Trial patients would be those who have completely failed chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and who have a 40 to 50 per cent chance of relapse after trying such therapies.'

The second phase will start two to three years later on 300 local and mainland patients when the therapy is proven safe and effective.

Patients need injections once a week and for at least three consecutive weeks to complete the treatment, which costs HK$200,000 to HK$300,000.

'Its side effects are less than those of chemotherapy that may cause serious hair loss,' Dr Chua said. 'Patients may feel sleepy, have a slight fever and muscle soreness.'