Life-saving drugs need funding, charity says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am


A medical charity is asking the public to open its purse strings to help cancer patients buy effective - but expensive - treatments not yet subsidised by the government.

The appeal from the Yan Oi Tong Chong Sok Un Cancer Fund comes as a recent study has found that traditional chemotherapies are not the most effective treatments for the majority of non-smoking Chinese lung cancer patients.

Instead, a therapy called tyrosine-kinase inhibitor (TKI) prolongs such patients' lives three times longer than traditional chemotherapy, according to a study published last year.

'In face of an increasingly ageing population in Hong Kong, we estimate the number of cancer patients will only increase, not decline,' said Paulman Tse Yim-pui, the director of Yan Oi Tong. 'So we do wish to receive more donations from the public to extend our [provision of TKI] to patients in more districts.'

The cancer aid fund was established in 2007 by the decades-old Yan Oi Tong charity.

TKI is a so-called targeted therapy that blocks the growth of cancer cells - and biological 'messages' such as new blood vessels - by targeting specific molecules, unlike traditional chemotherapy's target of rapidly dividing cells, producing some remarkable results.

'My uncontrollable coughing stopped within weeks of starting TKI treatment,' said Li Siu-lin, who developed lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in Hong Kong, in late 2010.

Li, who is in her mid-50s, learned that she had phase-four lung cancer, the disease's most advanced and lethal stage. After one year on TKI, Li's lung X-rays have reverted to normal from an abnormally whitened image showing many tumorous spots.

But at HK$16,000 a month, Li needs help from Yan Oi Tong to pay for the therapy. After being available in Hong Kong for almost a decade, it is still not on the Hospital Authority's list of funded drugs.

Li will need to take the medicine for the rest of her life. But the fund - which runs its programme out of Tuen Mun and United Christian hospitals - can no longer support her, since it needs to spread its limited resources to more patients. The Yan Oi Tong scheme covers all medicines recommended by the two hospitals' doctors that are outside the Hospital Authority's drug list.