Legislation & Litigation

Government Shutdown Doesn’t Stop Mesothelioma Cancer Care at NIH

Written By:
Oct 03, 2013
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
October 3, 2013

Mesothelioma cancer patients being treated at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) already enrolled in a clinical trial are not being affected by the partial federal government shutdown that began earlier this week.

Although 75 percent of the staff – an estimated 14,000 employees – has been put on temporary leave because of the shutdown, more than 1,400 ongoing clinical trials, covering a myriad of diseases, are continuing, according to National Institutes of Health spokesman John Burklow.

“Our patient care will continue,” assured another NIH employee.

Although the shutdown won’t affect those already receiving treatment at the NIH, it will delay the start of new studies and treatment protocols, and temporarily suspend new research, according to the National Cancer Institute Advocacy Relations Department. Much of the NIH staff is part of the furlough.

Burklow estimated that 200 people each week normally would be admitted to new trials at the NIH, but their enrollment now will be delayed until the shutdown ends. He also told CNN that six new clinical trials were scheduled to begin this week, but now must wait. It was unclear if any were related to mesothelioma.

Affordable Care Act Prompted the Shutdown

The shutdown, caused by the inability of Congress to agree on government funding legislation, began Tuesday and has sparked intense debate over the consequences.

At the heart of the funding battle is the controversial Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare — that was passed in 2010 and is well supported by cancer advocacy groups, including Asbestos.com.

There are 11 mesothelioma-specific clinical trials already in various stages at the NIH. Dozens more are being conducted at various medical facilities around the country. Several patients began clinical trials this week, as scheduled, at non-NIH facilities. Some of those trials have been going on for years.

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) estimates that the NIH sees 125 patients annually.

Clinical trials are especially important to patients because of the lack of treatment options currently available. Alimta is the only FDA-approved treatment. The lack of options forces many patients to explore clinical trials and experimental therapies.

In an effort to reopen the door to start new clinical trials this week, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation on Wednesday — Research for Lifesaving Cures Act – that would have exempted the NIH from a government shutdown.

The U.S. Senate rejected that proposal, insisting on a solution that would reopen all government operations.

Meso Trials On-Going at NIH

Among the drugs still being studied in mesothelioma clinical trials at the NIH during the government shutdown:

  • SS1P: An experimental cancer drug, genetically-designed to attack the mesothelin protein that is over-expressed in tumors.
  • ARQ 197: Known as tivantinib, it has shown an ability to block some of the enzymes needed for tumor cell growth.
  • IMC-A12: An antibody designed to block growth-cell receptors that play an important role in the division of cancer cells.
  • ISCOMATRIX: An experimental anti-inflammatory drug that can increase a body’s immune system when combined with a tumor-cell vaccine.
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