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Stars buy cancer drug for Tony
SHOWBIZ stars are paying for music legend Anthony Wilson to have £3,500-a-month cancer treatment - after the NHS refused to fund it.
The broadcaster - known as Mr Manchester - is taking a controversial new drug after chemotherapy failed to beat the disease.
He was diagnosed with cancer last year and had a kidney removed. Doctors at the Christie Hospital recommended Sutent, a drug which has doubled the life expectancy of some patients in trials.
But the Manchester NHS Primary Care Trust has refused to pay for the treatment. It says there is not enough `demonstrable evidence to support the use of this drug in treating kidney cancer'.
Mr Wilson is now buying Sutent privately and says the bill is being paid by friends and also a fund set up by members of the Manchester band Happy Mondays and other acts he has supported over the years in Manchester.
He says his condition has improved and he believes Sutent has stopped the cancer in its tracks.
He was turned down by the NHS, while patients being treated alongside him at Christie's - and living just a few miles away in Cheshire - are receiving funding for the therapy.
The former Factory Record boss, who helped shape the careers of some of Manchester's most famous bands during the 1980s and 90s, said: "This is my only real option. It is not a cure but can hold the cancer back, so I will probably be on it until I die.
"When they said I would have to pay £3,500 for the drugs each month, I thought where am I going to find the money? I'm the one person in this industry who famously has never made any money.
"I used to say some people make money and some make history - which is very funny until you find you can't afford to keep yourself alive.
"I'm due to have a scan in a couple of weeks to find out if this drug is working but I'm convinced it is because of the way I feel.
"I'm lucky I have this fund and my friends have been very generous, but some people needing these drugs are cashing in life savings, some are selling their homes.
"I've never paid for private healthcare because I'm a socialist. Now I find you can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal."
Sutent was licensed in January but it may be 18 months before it is assessed for use across the health service. Until then it is up to each health trust to decide whether to fund it. This has created a postcode lottery.
About 120 people are treated for kidney cancer at the Christie each year and 50 are currently receiving Sutent - 30 on trials and about 10 on the NHS, with the others paying privately.
In trials Sutent has extended patients' lives from an average of five to 11 months. But this week a Scottish medical watchdog decided not to fund the drug and sufferers and doctors now fear this will make it even harder to get it on the NHS.
Mr Wilson is considering appealing against Manchester PCT's decision. As a private patient he also has to pay for his scans and tests separately.
He revealed his cancer battle in an exclusive article for the Manchester Evening News in February and paid tribute to the NHS and the staff at Christie who are looking after him. Messages of support then flooded in from all over the world.
Nathan McGough, former manager of the Happy Mondays who has known Mr Wilson for 30 years, teamed up with Elliot Rashman, the Mondays' present manager, to set up a fund after they heard of his plight.
They quickly collected enough money to fund his care for the next five months.
Mr McGough said: "Tony is such a highly respected figure in the entertainment industry, so with the permission of his family I was able to contact a few businesses and individuals who were wealthy and would not miss the money and we have built up a substantial fund. Everyone I asked was very quick to offer to help - it was all done quietly and we guaranteed that only Tony and I would know they had helped. They don't want thanks or recognition, they just wanted to help."
Prof Robert Hawkins, director of medical oncology at Christie, said Sutent was the `most notable advance in the treatment of kidney cancer for many decades'.
He said: "The continued barriers to the widespread use of the drug are very distressing for patients.
"This is not a cure, it is a very good treatment and I would want it if I had kidney cancer."
Manchester PCT has turned down the three requests it has had for Sutent this year. A spokeswoman said an assessment had found a `lack of demonstrable evidence' to support its use in treating kidney cancer.
Excerpts taken from Manchester Evening News.
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