Megrahi survival – has Professor Kirby’s point been missed?


by Margaret Little
In all the media frenzy that has surrounded the release of Al–Megrahi, the fact that he is still alive must delight a certain group in society who might in other ways be neutral, that is the group of men who have prostate cancer.
The news that someone who was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer is still alive two years after being given a three month prognosis must bring hope to many men diagnosed with this illness.

One can only wonder how, instead of Mr Al-Megrahi being the famous survivor, the media would have reported this advance in medicine had it been some minor celebrity who had gone abroad to receive treatment.

Sadly and predictably, the media’s obsession with attacking the SNP has meant that many of the remarks made by Professor Roger Kirby have gone largely unreported. 

Kirby is one of the leading urologists in the UK and founder and director of The Prostate Centre, part of Harley Street’s private medical community.  It is one of the leading UK centres for prostate treatment and has treated many well-known sufferers such as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

If media reporting of Professor Kirby’s views are accurate then he does not seemed to have favoured the release of Al-Megrahi.  However, that notwithstanding, the professor has made several pertinent points about the treatment of prostate cancer and the fact that the drug likely to be keeping Al-Megrahi alive, abiraterone acetate, is not available for use in the UK.

The professor, in focussing on Al-Megrahi’s survival, may have unwittingly allowed himself to be used as a pawn in the politicising of the issue as he tried to draw attention to the new drug that could offer hope to many cancer sufferers.

Professor Kirby said: “In clinical trials abiraterone was proven to prolong lifespan by almost a third for late-stage cancer patients.  Mr Al-Megrahi will have some of the best therapists and medical healthcare at his disposal so he will almost certainly be using this drug alongside other advanced treatment options. He has long outlived the speculative three-month prognosis, and it appears he may continue to do so for a while yet.  I strongly suspect that this drug has been central to that.”

The drug was developed by Cancer Research UK at their Centre for Cancer Therapeutics but has yet to be approved for use in the UK.  The European Commission must first make a decision on its use, the decision being expected in October and then the authorities in the UK can decide whether to sanction its use here on the NHS, after that. 

The drug has already been approved for use in the USA and ironically, the drug is thought to have been supplied to Libya by the USA.  What all this should bring into focus though is that prostate cancer sufferers’ treatment might improve considerably with this new drug. 

Professor Kirby has been involved in the national guidelines for the care of those with prostate cancer and is keen to see the approval of this new drug here. 

His frustration is clear in an additional statement not widely reported in the media in which he goes on to urge the European Commission to act quickly to approve the drug saying, “Abiraterone can provide a vital lifeline to men by shrinking tumours and improving the cancer symptoms. It is inconceivable to think that the European Commission would opt against its use in Europe. Put bluntly, it would deny prostate cancer sufferers a chance to extend their lives.”

This new drug appears to be bringing new hope to patients so let us hope it is available to men here soon.  This should be the real story of Al-Megrahi’s survival and be a celebration of those who are developing new cancer treatments.