Will there be a breakthrough for mesothelioma sufferers in 2017? UK funding into finding more effective treatments for mesothelioma received a boost in 2016. In the March budget, a package worth £5 million was promised by the government to establish a ‘National Centre of Excellence’ to carry out vital research into the currently, incurable cancer of the lung linings.

The news was broadly welcomed by MPs, asbestos victim support groups and asbestosis lawyers, but overall, the funding amount was also thought to fall short of the amount needed to carry out cutting-edge research. More disappointing still, the funding was to be a “one-off” payment, rather than an annual amount. The British Lung Foundation (BLF) also said at the time that sufficient funding for research was the only real answer to reducing suffering for mesothelioma patients.

£5 million inadequate to ensure the future of the Centre

Concern over funding was once again raised at the latest All Parliamentary Group Asbestos-Sub Committee meeting in November, held at the House of Commons. The £5 million pledged by the government was viewed as being inadequate to ensure the future of the Mesothelioma Centre now established at Imperial College, according to Professor Sir Anthony Newman Taylor, Chair of the Centre Advisory Group.

Professor Taylor explained that pioneering research into developing more effective mesothelioma, as well as other asbestosis treatments, is increasingly focused on immunotherapy and exploring the influence of genetic factors driving the development of other cancers, which is believed can also be used in fighting mesothelioma.

Use of asbestos fibres as a low cost source of insulation and material strengthener was widespread throughout British heavy industry, manufacturing and construction from the 1950s through to the 1980s. The lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks, which often meant no protection from breathing in the tiny fibre dust particles, continues to inflict devastation upon thousands of innocent workers more than half a century later.

Unending battle to overcome the fatal malignancy

The lives of 2,538 asbestos exposure victims were lost to mesothelioma in 2013, the latest available figures published in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Report, 2014/15. More than half of the 8,000 work-related cancer deaths recorded each year are still caused by past exposures to asbestos and a further 28,500 deaths are expected between now and 2025.

The government is repeatedly called upon to inject research funding into fighting the seemingly unending battle to overcome the fatal malignancy. During one debate at the House of Lords in November 2015, it was found that only £480 was being invested into mesothelioma research projects per death, compared to more than £3,700 for skin cancer per death.

Annual levy successively cut in the two years of the scheme

Figures from the National Cancer Research Institute showed that throughout 2014, just £820,000 was invested into mesothelioma research. This number is significantly lower than the £9.9 million and £5.3 million spent respectively on the skin cancers melanoma and myeloma, which are two forms of skin cancer with a similar mortality rate.

When the Mesothelioma Bill was passed in January 2014 – which set out the terms for the Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS) introduced 6 months later – there was some concern over the lack of a “sustainable future funding” component, which would ensure a research contribution is levied from the insurance industry. Although insurers are required to pay an annual levy to meet the costs, the amount has been successively cut in the two years the scheme has been in operation, said to be due to the lower than expected number of applicants at the start-up.

A further amendment to the Mesothelioma Act 2014, proposed by the House of Commons in January 2016, aimed to ensure that the insurer’s levy would provide an additional amount for research funding. Once again, disappointment was expressed over the “research supplement”, which was not to exceed 1 per cent. Then the Spring budget brought renewed hope with the Chancellor’s announcement of a dedicated research centre.

Key expertise in discovering cancer-causing genetic mutations

The National Mesothelioma Centre consists of The National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) at Imperial College, Royal Brompton Hospital, Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. The four leading institutions, which specialise in researching the treatment of lung diseases and cancer, have appointed scientists with key expertise in the discovery of the genetic mutations which cause cancer, including mesothelioma, and experience of developing new therapies within clinical practice.

Most cancers appear to undergo between 5 and 10 genetic mutations before a benign tumour turns malignant. Research is concentrated on trying to halt the underlying causes of gene mutation. Recent breakthroughs in breast cancer research have resulted in a drug, which can successfully stop genetic mutations in breast cancers and it is now believed that the same success can be repeated with mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma sufferers long history of fighting to obtain justice

To help kickstart the research, Sir Anthony would like to see the £5 million funding used in compiling statistical data obtained at the Centre to provide “reasonable grounds” for future funding.

Mesothelioma sufferers and their families have a long history of fighting for recognition and better understanding against the considerable challenges faced to obtain justice as a result of their historical exposure to asbestos.

Will they once again be wondering in 2017 just how many more “reasonable grounds” are needed before the much-needed funding is offered up in the search to stop the fatal cancer claiming more lives in the years ahead?