Can­cer ‘rich man’s dis­ease’

The Press - - DAILY BRIEFING -

Top sci­en­tist Sir Paul Cal­laghan says can­cer is a ‘‘rich man’s dis­ease’’ af­ter choos­ing to buy drugs pri­vately to fight his own life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion.

He is us­ing money from a pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can prize awarded to him yes­ter­day to help pay the $28,000 cost of the drugs.

His de­ci­sion echoes that of an­other high-pro­file Welling­to­nian, In­fratil boss Lloyd Mor­ri­son, who has spent time over­seas re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for an ag­gres­sive form of leukaemia.

Nei­ther is crit­i­cal of gov­ern­ment fund­ing for can­cer drugs, but Cal­laghan, 62, says fight­ing the dis­ease is eas­ier for the wealthy.

‘‘I tell you, can­cer is a rich man’s dis­ease – you don’t want to be poor and have can­cer.’’

Cal­laghan, a physics pro­fes­sor at Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity, had surgery for colon can­cer in late 2008 and is now un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy af­ter the can­cer was found to have metas­ta­sized. ‘‘My physi­cians tell me it’s in­cur­able, but it would be nice to sur­prise them,’’ he said.

He was re­ceiv­ing ‘‘won­der­ful sup­port’’ from the New Zealand pub­lic health sys­tem, he said.

‘‘I’m get­ting a full course of chemo­ther­apy at tax­payer ex­pense, but in ad­di­tion to that I’m get­ting an­other drug that is not funded by Phar­mac.’’

His health pre­vented him from trav­el­ling to Florida to pick up his lat­est hon­our, the $26,000 Gun­ther Laukien Prize, for his ex­per­i­men­tal nu­clear mag­netic res­o­nance re­search.

No­bel Lau­re­ate Richard Ernst, who chaired the award com­mit­tee, praised Cal­laghan for his ground­break­ing work on us­ing ra­dio waves to de­tect the mo­tion of mol­e­cules. His work has helped im­prove MRI brain scans but has other applications.

Mor­ri­son, 52, re­turned to Welling­ton last year af­ter months of treat­ment at Seat­tle’s Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­tre.

He was crit­i­cal of re­stric­tions that stopped peo­ple from im­port­ing drugs and hav­ing them ad­min­is­tered through the pub­lic health sys­tem.

Phar­mac fund­ing and pro­cure­ment man­ager St­ef­fan Crausaz said Avastin, the drug Cal­laghan was buy­ing, had been re­viewed. Its ben­e­fits were seen as rel­a­tively small against its very high price. Grant Gil­lett, pro­fes­sor of bio­med­i­cal ethics at Otago Uni­ver­sity, said Phar­mac’s ap­proach of choos­ing proven drugs was right.

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