Fresh hope for the treatment of about 100 terminal leukaemia patients may be on the way thanks to a new drug that could be introduced in the city as early as next year. But AMN107, like leukaemia 'wonder' drug Glivec, is costly and there are already calls for it to be subsidised. The drug, now under clinical trials in the United States, takes over where Glivec leaves off - by treating the accelerated and acute stages of myeloid leukaemia, the white blood cell cancer that hits about 300 people a year in the city. University of Hong Kong haematology and oncology professor Kwong Yok-lam said AMN107 'shows a lot of promise' in the late stages of the disease. He believed it would be available in the city by the end of this year or early next year. He said two other similar drugs were on trial. Professor Kwong said Glivec was effective in controlling and prolonging the initial chronic phase of the disease, which usually lasts about four years. But it was not useful in the accelerating and acute phases, due to gene mutations that occur in the blood. The accelerating phase lasts three to six months, while in the acute phase patients can survive only for weeks. Professor Kwong said the new drug controlled the conditions by overcoming the mutations. He estimated that 100 patients were now at the accelerating and acute phases in which Glivec could no longer help. Glivec, which costs $16,000 to $20,000 a month per patient, was the subject of heated debate after it was left off the list of drugs that the Hospital Authority would provide to patients at $10. It has now been included in a planned 'safety net' scheme under which people with disposable incomes of up to $800,000 would not have to spend more than 30 per cent of it on Glivec or three other expensive drugs. Professor Kwong said the new drugs would be costly. 'As a doctor, I would like to see all the drugs to be inexpensive. But in reality, the pharmaceutical firms would be unlikely to put their resources into research and development if new drugs were inexpensive, and patients would not get new drugs in the end,' he said. 'I think these new drugs will be very costly, I have no doubt about that. The bottom line is that the community should decide whether patients should receive subsidies.' Patients' Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong appealed to the Hospital Authority to include the new drug in the safety net.