Essex grandmother’s delight at moves to offer leukaemia drug on the NHS

A WONDER drug which can extend remission in people with leukaemia by almost 50 per cent has been given wide scale medical approval – much to the delight of a Clavering woman who helped trial it.

A WONDER drug which almost doubles the defence of leukaemia sufferers from relapsing has been given medical approval – much to the delight of a Clavering woman who helped trial it.

Anne Gough, 66, had been battling the disease for 10 years when she took part in the trial of rituximab in 2004.

The grandmother has now been in remission for six years - and she welcomed moves by the Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to get it made available on the NHS. The organisation extended its recommendation of the drug on Monday.

“It is absolutely brilliant news and I am thrilled to bits, for both myself and others,” she said.

“I was lucky enough to be part of the trial for this drug and I have been in remission for six years now which is a very long time. Why shouldn’t everyone have that chance as well?”

Mrs Gough discovered that she had the most common form of the diease, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), after a routine blood test. After chemotherapy the leukaemia went into remission, but returned in 2004.

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She had no hesitation in being one of only a handful of people to take part in the trial of the drug at Addenbrooke’s Hospital six years ago - and she hasn’t looked back.

“It was a terrific thing for me to go on the trial in the first place - I was in the right place at the right time,” said Mrs Gough.

“I am as fit as a fiddle and not just sitting about doing nothing. I spend a lot of time looking after my grandchildren, I love gardening and I enjoy salmon fishing with my husband.

“This may not have been possible without this drug and I am really grateful to all the doctors and nurses at Addenbrooke’s who looked after me, and still do. I can’t thank them enough.”

Rituximab is an antibody treatment which targets rogue cells in people with CLL. When combined with chemotherapy, it can double a patient’s chance of achieving complete remission.

Previously licensed in March 2009, its wide-scale use means that relapsed and difficult-to-treat patients could soon access treatment. NICE is also planning to review its guidance in December to consider rituximab in combination with other suitable chemotherapy drugs.

Dr Claire Dearden, consultant haematologist at Royal Marsden Hospital, said: “When added to chemotherapy, rituximab consistently delivers superior outcomes to chemotherapy alone, putting more patients into longer remissions, the key goal of treatment for chronic leukaemia.

“NICE’s decision to widen its recommendation to include relapsed and refractory CLL patients is very encouraging and will mean that many more people will now be able to benefit from this potent treatment combination.”