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Published: Wednesday, 2/20/2002

MCO covers tab for daily dose of cancer test drug

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE SCIENCE WRITER

The Medical College of Ohio never intended to allow a Pemberville woman's cancer to go untreated because she lacked the money for an experimental drug, said Dr. Donald P. Braun, administrative director of MCO's Cancer Institute.

“Not only are we duty-bound to pay for it, we're committed to doing that,'' Dr. Braun said.

“That's super,'' said Dave Jackson, whose wife, Cissi, saw tumors disappear and her health turn around when she was treated with an experimental drug known as H11 in a cancer-drug trial at MCO last year. But when the trial ended late last year, Mrs. Jackson's continued treatment seemed in doubt. Not long after completing treatment, her tumors started to grow again.

“I thought she was going to die,'' Mr. Jackson said. “That's really good news. That's great. I wonder why they didn't tell us?''

“Oh, yes!'' cried Mrs. Jackson on hearing the news. “Oh, that's beautiful. I felt so great taking it, so I'm anxious to get back on it.''

Cissi Jackson, 62, was one of 12 patients who signed up a year ago to help drug manufacturer Viventia Biotech, Inc., of Toronto find a safe dose of the anti-cancer antibody. All in the trial had recurring cancer and got an intravenous dose of H11 every weekday for four weeks. Those whose health improved were readmitted to the trial.

Although two other patients went through a second round of treatment, H11 ultimately failed to help them. But Mrs. Jackson's improvement was so dramatic, she went on to receive 100 doses, stopping only when the trial ended late last year.

During the trial, the drug manufacturer picked up all costs associated with H11. While Viventia offered to provide Mrs. Jackson free drugs after the trial, it appeared uncertain who would pay the nearly $300 per day in additional costs.

Dr. Braun said MCO never would refuse to treat a patient because he or she couldn't pay. “We never once denied treatment based on ability to pay,'' he said. “The problem is, you can't [administer the drug] without a lot of federal red tape.''

People who learned Mrs. Jackson couldn't pay for continued treatment flooded MCO with offers of donations last week.

Sarah Lyons, protocol coordinator for the Cancer Institute, said she received at least 25 voice mail messages “from people I couldn't talk to because I was on the phone talking to other people who wanted to donate.''

Other MCO employes received similar calls after learning of Mrs. Jackson's plight in a special five-part Blade series, “Working on a Cure: Cancer on Trial,'' which was published Feb. 10 through Feb. 14. MCO is prohibited from accepting donations on behalf of an individual, although its foundation, which helps many patients, can accept general donations.

Before Mrs. Jackson can receive more H11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must approve continued treatment. Ms. Lyons hopes to hear from the agency by mid-March.

The medical school continues to talk to Medicaid officials about paying for the H11 treatment. “We're going to fight hard to get them to cover it. If they can't cover it, we'll eat the loss, just like we eat the loss in other situations,'' Dr. Braun said.

Should the FDA permit Mrs. Jackson to receive H11, the antibody will be considered experimental, facing significant testing before it can be used by anyone else. “Unless you're Mrs. Jackson, the only way to get this drug is in the context of a clinical trial,'' Dr. Braun said. A trial may open later this year, though date and details haven't been announced.



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