News in brief: Targeting interleukin-6 could help relieve irAEs; Public supports cigarette sales ban; NPS MedicineWise calls for review on its funding

21 Jan 2021

Targeting interleukin-6 could help relieve immunotherapy side effects

The combination of IL-6 and immune checkpoint blockade appears to reduce toxicity while preserving anti-tumor immune response.

In preclinical studies, the combination decreased experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) symptoms and improved tumor control.

To validate the findings, US researchers performed a retrospective analysis of 31 patients with melanoma who were treated with immune checkpoint blockade between January 2004 and March 2021 and also received an IL-6 blocker to treat inflammatory arthritis and other immune-related adverse events.

The study found a 74% improvement in symptoms after a median of two months on IL-6 blockade therapy with no negative impact on the efficacy of immunotherapy.

A phase II prospective clinical trial  to assess the safety and efficacy of IL-6 blockade in combination with anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 therapy in several different cancer types is underway.

Read more in Cancer Cell
Embargo. It is not available for public release until 9-May-2022 11:00 ET Diab A

NPS MedicineWise calls for review on its funding

The future of NPS MedicineWise is under a cloud because the service has lost almost its entire Federal Government funding, its CEO says.

It follows the federal budget announcement back in March that the NPS would no longer receive uncontested funding to promote quality use of medicines, a cut of around $25 million annually.

The money will instead go to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC), which will also take over the service’s website and the MedicineInsight dataset and.

The Practice Review letters sent to doctors comparing their prescribing of PBS-listed medicines with others in their specialty are also now expected to come from the commission.

NPS MedicineWise CEO Katherine Burchfield says the decision is a mistake.

“We are disappointed and concerned with what this means for Australia at a time when quality and safe use of medicines is listed as a national health priority,” she says.

“While there is no doubt that the ACSQHC has a key role to play in quality use of medicines, and has strong capabilities and networks, it performs a different role and function in the health system to that of NPS MedicineWise.”

“The two organisations should work together, using their different strengths and levers, to enact change.”

She said the service had contacted Minister for Health Greg Hunt to request he reconsider.

Public supports cigarette sales ban

A retail cigarette sales ban may once have been unthinkable, but a national survey suggests most Australians would support the action, Melbourne researchers say.

Their 2019 survey of 1,939 adults found nearly two thirds thought it “would be a ‘good thing’ if there came a time when it was no longer legal to sell cigarettes in shops in Australia”, while 17% considered it a ‘bad thing’.

Around half supported a phase-out process, where products would be removed from Australian stores over a set period but could still be purchased from overseas companies. Sixty-two percent thought it should happen over 10 years.

Specific measures such as licensing for tobacco retailers and restricting sales to places children can’t enter had the greatest backing at 75% and 76%, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, never- and former-smokers were more likely to support the ban than current smokers.

As Australia’s smoking prevalence approaches 10%, “novel policies such as phasing out the retail sale of smoke tobacco products are being considered”, the authors from Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer wrote in Tobacco Control.

“Public support will be a critical factor in achieving the goal of phasing out sales, especially given anticipated opposition and lobbying from manufacturers of smoked tobacco products.”

Greater public discussion, along with research into optimal phase-out strategies and the potential for increased illicit tobacco sales are also needed, the authors concluded.

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