The Press

Cancer ‘rich man’s disease’

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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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