Doctors to test statins on private cancer patients

The Sunday Times 17 May 2015

A GROUP of doctors are to offer a cocktail of common drugs including statins to 5,000 terminally ill cancer private patients to create a large-scale trial that they hope will convince the NHS to adopt the treatment.

Their patients, who will each be charged a fee of £400 and then asked to contribute consultation payments of £200, will be entered into a study examining the effects on tumours of statins and metformin, both usually used to treat heart disease and diabetes, mebendazole, a parasite treatment, and the antibiotic doxycycline.

Hundreds of studies, many of them small but including an analysis of projects involving 1.5m people into the effects of metformin, suggest statins and other common drugs may prolong the lives of liver, pancreas, colorectal and breast cancer patients. Despite the findings, the NHS does not currently offer such drug combination treatments.

“The only way patients find out about these drugs is if they do their own research,” said Justin Stebbing, professor of oncology at Imperial College London, who is leading the study, which will be co-ordinated by Care Oncology Clinic in London.

Under the trial, expected to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency later this year, patients will be given a tailored combination of drugs and their progress monitored.

Angus Dalgleish, professor of oncology at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London, is already offering the treatments to those among his NHS patients who can afford the fees.

“Although it’s not illegal to prescribe these drugs off licence you get bullied by administrators, managers and other doctors if you do,” he said.

Leona Streeter, 34, from Thaxted, Essex, who has breast cancer, has signed up. “Everyone in my situation needs hope and I don’t see why these drugs are not being offered on the NHS,” she said.

But some doctors and charities are unconvinced that the treatments offer sufficient benefits. Peter Johnson, lead clinician at the charity Cancer Research UK, said: “Patients at the end of their lives are keen to try almost anything . . . There is no data about the exact effect of these drug combinations in cancer patients.”