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How patients in India are missing out on latest lung cancer treatments


According to the American Cancer Society, even as early detection is critical given that lung cancer at stage 1A has a five-year survival rate of 49% as against 5% at stage 3B, all is not lost in all cases.

By Praveen Sikri

The mere mention of cancer evokes frightening images for anyone. And if it’s been diagnosed for a close family member, it becomes even more agonising and difficult. In recent years, even as India has seen the emergence of advanced cancer research as well as super specialty hospitals focused exclusively on cancer treatment, we still see cancer patients and their families struggling to find that perfect or even near-perfect cancer treatment. While some of them do manage to find the right facility and expert doctors, many a time, they seem to continue to scout around desperately for the right drug or medicine.

Since many of the latest drugs which may be available outside India, but not within India, it becomes nearly impossible to ensure that the patient receives the best over-all treatment despite the presence of top doctors and at the best of the facilities equipped with the best of equipment. Therefore, getting those drugs from outside becomes the key to successful treatment for a patient and his family.

Three main types of cancer on the basis of origin

Among different types of cancer, on the basis of their origin, Carcinomas are most common wherein the cancer arises in membranes and glands or ducts of glands followed by Sarcomas wherein they arise from bone, muscle and nerve followed by types of Blood cancer.

Disturbing statistics on lung cancer

More specifically in terms of body parts affected, even as worldwide lung cancer and prostate cancer are most common, lung cancer accounts for 5.9% of all cancers and 8.1% of all cancer-related deaths in India. In fact, lung cancer has been found to be the leading type of cancer for male individuals according to several of the Population-based Cancer Registries or PBCRs in the country. A study covering lung cancer patients for a 10-year period found that adenocarcinoma (ADC) was the most common type of lung cancer at 34%, followed by squamous cell carcinoma at 28.6% and small cell lung cancer 16.1%. The same study also found that the proportion of females with lung cancer also went up with time in India. Even more alarmingly enough, there has been a rise in lung cancer cases among non-smokers too in the country in recent years as illustrated in several research studies. While small cell lung cancers almost always affect smokers, ‘non-small cell lung cancers’ impact smokers and non-smokers alike. Incidentally, about 85% of lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancers in India. In fact, adenocarcinoma occurs more among non-smokers.
Novel lung cancer drugs available outside but not in India

In the last two years alone, of about 100 novel drugs approved by the US FDA, nearly 35-45% of are meant for cancer treatment. And among these cancer drugs, nearly one-third (20-35%) of them have been made for lung cancer patients. But on a disappointing note, none of these medicines is today available within the country. Since the arrival of these medicines within the country through registration and licensing would typically take around four to five years and even more, many lung cancer patients are likely to miss out on these drugs and their therapeutic benefits in our country. In many cases, they might even lose their battle with the dreaded disease for lack of timely access to medicines.

For instance, for those suffering from non-small cell lung cancer which happens to be the majority type for lung cancer cases in India, drugs such as Tabrecta, Gavreto, Rozlytrek, Lorbrena, Alunbrig, Tagrisso, Exkivity, Lumakras and Rybevrant, apart from others, have been approved by the FDA in recent years and are available in the US and other foreign markets. And for those with small cell lung cancer, drugs such as Zepzelca and Cosela are available outside. Similarly for those with metastatic lung cancer where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, there are drugs such as Vizimpro and Rozyltrek available in the foreign market.

Legitimate novel drug access facilitators present

Today, there are private consultants and facilitators present in the country who can facilitate access to these novel drugs for patients in India, and legally so. For the use and treatment of an individual patient and if certified by an expert doctor that the patient has exhausted all available treatment options within India, a patient and his family can approach these consultants to get timely access to these yet unregistered medicines within the country.

According to the American Cancer Society, even as early detection is critical given that lung cancer at stage 1A has a five-year survival rate of 49% as against 5% at stage 3B, all is not lost in all cases. So for serious lung cancer patients and their families, there is always hope. More importantly, they must know that there are several newly-approved and latest medicines available which they can legally source from outside. Indeed help is at hand.

(The author is the CEO, Ikris Pharma Network. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)

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