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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 13:04 GMT
Row over vCJD drug trial delays
vCJD is a rare brain disease
Trials of a possible new treatment for the human form of BSE have still to begin more than two years after they were promised.

The Department of Health ordered a fast-track trial in 2001 after doctors in the United States found a drug used to treat malaria may also fight vCJD.

A report in The Times Higher Education Supplement says a "feud" between two groups of scientists has caused delays.

The Medical Research Council says progress is being made.

Experimental treatment

Quinacrine was first given to 21-year-old Rachel Forber from Liverpool, who had vCJD.

Before receiving the drug, she was bed-ridden and required constant care. She could not recognise members of her family, stand noise or sunlight or feed or dress herself.

There is a real commitment from the researchers to getting this trial underway as soon as possible
Professor Colin Blakemore,
Medical Research Centre
Within three months of starting treatment, she was able to get out of bed, walk unaided and even swim without support.

However, Rachel died at the end of 2001. It is thought she was taken off the drug after complications affecting her liver.

Last year, Sir Iain Chalmers, director of the UK Cochrane Centre, was appointed chairman of the committee which will oversee trials of the drug. However, he recently resigned.

He told The Times Higher Education Supplement that he had done all he could to push the trials forward.

He said scientists at the Medical Research Unit prion unit at the Institute of Neurology in London and the CJD Surveillance Unit at Edinburgh were unable to agree on how to run the trials.

"Only after I accepted the position was I introduced to the longstanding, bitter relationship between the researchers. This is a problem going back many years.

"I am very disappointed that this feud continues. Unless the public starts to get angry about this, I can't see their interests being served as they should be."

'Productive meeting'

The Medical Research Council, which is leading the trial, said progress was being made.

"There is a real commitment from the researchers to getting this trial underway as soon as possible," said Professor Colin Blakemore, its chief executive.

"The chairs of the trial steering committee met with the Department of Health yesterday and had a very productive meeting about options that could address all the practical scientific issues and deliver a final protocol by Easter."

However, Richard Knight, acting director of the Edinburgh unit, told The Times Higher Education Supplement that "there are real issues about how we can work together".

"The issue from our point of view is devastatingly simple. CJD surveillance is critically important to the UK. Anything that might interfere with that or change the process has to be looked at very carefully."

Professor John Collinge, who runs the MRC prion unit, told the newspaper he wanted the trials to start as soon as possible.

"What I want to achieve is a trial that delivers for the patients," he said. "I want to get this solved."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "This trial is being established by the Medical Research Council at the department's request.

"Agreeing a very complex protocol has been challenging, and all parties have been working hard to achieve this. We expect the protocol to be finalised shortly."

CJD drug gamble 'helps teenager'
26 Sep 03  |  Health

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