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More medical marvels

more medical marvels

In a week when deep sea bacteria have provided an improbable cure for prostate cancer sufferers, it seems that the medical community is bending over backwards to bring more good news.

For those of us who associate the initials NHS with junior doctors’ strikes, safety scandals and cancelled appointments, it is encouraging to discover that it does occasionally author some original, life changing and world class research.  We owe modern cataract surgery and hip replacements to the NHS [1] and it has just announced that it will fund ten retina implants in 2017 at a total estimated cost of £1.5m.

The bionic eye implant has already been tested on three patients who have suffered from retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for decades.  Their blindness had reached a stage at which they could distinguish only between light and dark and the implant has enabled them to detect movement.   It is hoped that the results of the trial will include considerably improved quality of life for the UK’s 16,000 RP patients and perhaps even for victims of macular degeneration who are far more numerous.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, another landmark drug has successfully made it through Phase III trials.  Patients suffering from primary progressive multiple sclerosis (the sort that only ever gets worse) who were treated with a drug called OCREVUS (generic name: ocrelizumab) were 16% less likely to deteriorate further than counterparts who were given an alternative drug.

Multiple sclerosis experts in the US and the UK are cautiously optimistic that the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency will approve ocrelizumab for widespread use although that is only the first hurdle to be overcome for the UK’s 100,000 multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers.

Professor Gavin Giovannoni, of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry suspects that the drug may be too expensive for the NHS to prescribe liberally.  Even among the 20,000 patients whose MS is primary progressive, he expects the eligible group to be “narrow”.[2]

There are bureaucratic delays too, unrelated to the clinical trials but involving further paperwork describing the commercial manufacturing process.  Roche, the parent of Genentech, which has developed OCREVUS, is optimistic that FDA approval will finally be in place at the end of March 2017.[3]
[1] NHS innovation
[2] Primary progressive multiple sclerosis drug
[3] Ocrevus delayed