The immune system protects us from disease. Normally the immune system detects and destroys mutated cells such as cancer but, sometimes the cells can escape detection and develop into tumours.
Immunotherapy is a relatively new form of treatment that uses drugs to stimulate a patient’s own immune system to target and kill mesothelioma cells. The treatment has been shown to have very positive effects in other cancers, potentially turning fatal disease into a controllable long term condition.
Early trials for mesothelioma have shown the same potential. The drugs, however, are still considered as an emerging treatment and are only available via clinical trials. They are not authorised by NICE for use by the NHS.
Part of the reason may be cost. For example, a 2 year course of treatment with pembrolizumab (Keytruda) will cost in the region of £170,000 to £200,000. The drugs are available privately, however, without the means to pay for this treatment most mesothelioma patients will be denied this chance to seek to prolong their life. There are trials available but places are limited and some trials are still blind.
Arranging funding for immunotherapy
The Law Reform (Personal Injury) Act 1948 Section 2 (4) provides that claimants are entitled to claim private medical costs. Arrangements are therefore being made to fund this treatment for our clients within their compensation claim.
Under the High Court fast track procedure for mesothelioma claims it is possible to get an early judgement on liability. Once the defendant’s liability is established it is possible to arrange for the immunotherapy treatment to be arranged privately and funded by interim payment.
Alternative treatments for mesothelioma
In these terminal illness cases where treatment options are limited the claimant is entitled to try alternative methods of treatment and recover the costs provided that the claimant has acted reasonably, even in cases where the treatments have no medical efficacy. In the case of immunotherapy treatment medical evidence of the prospect of medical benefit will be enough to satisfy a court that the claimant is entitled to try the treatment and claim the cost.
Immunotherapy is not suitable for everyone. Typically, after chemotherapy, an initial assessment of the suitability of this treatment is carried out. Patients will need to go through a short course, usually 4 cycles of immunotherapy, before it can be confirmed that they have responded positively and it is confirmed that this type of treatment has any clinical benefit to them. The initial investigation can also be funded by interim payment and thereafter the total cost of treatment can be added to the claim.
There is no reason why this should be limited to immunotherapy and as new drugs and treatments emerge they could also be funded in this way.