Friday Five

A good week for couch potatoes, a bad week for fax machines – this week’s Friday 5

NHS to offer new leukaemia therapy

A deal has been struck by the NHS that means hospitals can begin to offer children a cutting-edge cancer therapy within weeks.

CAR-T is a novel treatment for aggressive leukaemia that has been described as the most exciting treatment advance for decades. It is personalised to the individual and involves giving patients genetically modified T-cells. It has been shown in some trials to provide a cure, even when other treatments have failed. However, it can cause serious side effects and does not always work.

The NHS deal means that patients under the age of 25 with advanced B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia who are not responding to standard treatments will be eligible. About 400 children are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia every year in the UK, but only around 15 of these will be suitable for the CAR-T treatment annually.

Read more on the BBC news website.


MHRA excluded from regulatory work by EMA

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been excluded from working on a number of new drug applications by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Out of a potential 36 pitched for this year, the MHRA has only been awarded 2 contracts to serve as lead assessor, despite typically handling up to a third of applications across the EU. This is thought to be a result of combative rhetoric coming from both the UK government and EU, as negotiations about the post-Brexit relationship reach the final stages.

It is a significant loss for the MHRA, who are estimated to have an income of £14m from EU deals. Existing centralised projects in which the MHRA has acted as rapporteur have also been reallocated to other EU27 countries, causing a huge operational dilemma as the EMA also reduces its workforce ahead of the headquarters move from London to Amsterdam. Which is evident as the EMA scales back its workload to only essential activities, such as medicines evaluations and surveillance.

Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) chief executive Mike Thompson has said that the loss of the MHRA’s skills and expertise from the EMA will be a big blow to the EU, as the MHRA carries out a third of all manufacturing inspections and picked up one-third of all adverse events. Which is evident as the EMA scales back its workload to only essential activities, such as medicines evaluations and surveillance.

Read more on PMLiVE.


Suicide rate among UK men falls

Despite recent media reports concentrating on the troubling rates of male suicide in the UK, the Office of National Statistics reveals that the rates among men are at their lowest for more than 30 years.

Ruth Sutherland, head of Samaritans charity said: “The figures are encouraging and we believe that the focus in recent years on suicide prevention to tackle the higher rates in men has contributed to this. Added to this, reducing stigma around men’s mental health and encouraging men to open up and seek help when they are struggling has been beneficial.”

Although this is positive news, men still account for three-quarters of suicides in the UK, with men aged between 45 – 49 holding the highest suicide rate, at 24.8 deaths per 100,000. The female suicide rate has not had such promising change in rates and has, in fact, remained unchanged for the past 10 years, prompting Ruth Sutherland to also state that: “We need to work harder at understanding who is taking their own lives and why, and what support and interventions work to save lives.”

Read more on the BBC.


Matt Hancock slates NHS IT systems and announces app update

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned that “downright dangerous” IT systems are putting patient lives at risk. Writing in the Telegraph, he warned that the lack of systems to transfer vital patient information was hindering efforts of NHS staff, and vowed to “bring the NHS into the 21st century”.

Hancock suggested that outdated systems are costing lives, saying that: “The fact that your hospital can’t see your GP record, or that you as a patient don’t have control over your own data, or that even within the same hospital different departments have to write down basic details is expensive, frustrating for staff, and risks patient safety.”

Hancock has made technology one of his key priorities for the NHS and is set to announce a £200m fund to assist NHS trusts in developing systems that work across the NHS. One of the first steps to technological and digital innovation within the NHS comes in the form of the new NHS app which is expected to launch in 5 parts of the country by the end of this month. After an initial test period, the app will enable all patients to book GP appointments, access the NHS 111 service, view their medical records and record their own organ donation preferences.

Read more in the Telegraph.


10,000 step goal is based on ‘bad science’

In recent years, the 10,000 step mantra has become a health staple, with research firm Gartner estimating that there will be 500 million wearables, most of which count steps and encourage users to aim for 10,000, by 2020. This number, however, is an arbitrary figure that originates from a 1960s Japanese company, who designed the world’s first wearable step counter to cash in on the popularity of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“There wasn’t really any evidence for it at the time,” says Professor David Bassett, head of kinesiology, recreation and sports studies at the University of Tennessee. “They just felt that was a number that was indicative of an active lifestyle and should be healthy.”

Most scientific studies conducted to test the theory simply compare 10,000 steps with a much lower figure, such as 3,000 or 5,000 steps. More thorough studies have suggested that between 6,000 and 8,000 steps sufficiently protects against cardiovascular disease. Scientists are also studying the effects of up to 18,000 daily steps.

Read more in the Guardian.


Quote of the week

Our quote of the week is from Rachael Bland, the pioneering BBC journalist who sadly passed away this week from cancer. Rachael was known for her openness around her cancer diagnosis, having documented her experiences in a chart-topping podcast You, Me and the Big C with with Deborah James, a Sun columnist, and Lauren Mahon, a blogger, who have also had treatment for cancer:

“We wanted to create a space where you feel like you’re sitting down with girls like you . . . talking about it like it’s EastEnders. When you talk about something, you normalise it.”

Read more in the Independent.