Former England and Wolves footballer Geoff Thomas has told MPs about his battle to beat leukaemia and save the lives of hundreds of other sufferers.
He was in the House of Commons to request more funding to make new treatments available to patients. Speaking in a Commons committee room, he said there was a “funding gap” as money was available to develop new drugs but not to carry out the testing for them to be used.
Thomas, who played for Wolves from 1993 to 1997 and was picked for England by Graham Taylor, hopes to raise at least £20 million in public and private funding to develop leukaemia and other blood cancer treatments.
The money would come from business sponsorship as well as the NHS, and would pay for specialist research at six of the UK’s top research hospitals such as University Hospital Birmingham.
He was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia in 2003 and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2004, but this treatment is not suitable for all sufferers.
He said: “What I have found on my journey from being diagnosed up to this point is that there is a missing link. Millions of pounds a year are spent on science but there is a major gap.”
He was treated in 2005, and if he remains well until 2010 it will mean he has beaten the disease.
He said: “I went into remission in January 2005. I have five years from that date. It is a ticking clock. It is not something I have thought about. I have concentrated on being positive and getting on with it.”
Yesterday he led a presentation to the All Party Cancer Group of MPs at Westminster, at the invitation of Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride (Con) and committee chairman Ian Gibson (Lab Norwich North).
He said: “The sooner we get things up and running, the sooner we start saving lives. I have sat next to too many patients who have not had the opportunity I have.
“Eighty per cent of people diagnosed with leukaemia don’t make it. That is far too many.”
Also taking part was West Midlands businessman Graham Hampson Silk, chairman of Hampson Holdings, a fellow leukaemia sufferer who met Geoff Thomas in a waiting room as they were being treated.
While Thomas was able to benefit from a bone marrow transplant, Mr Hampson Silk was not so lucky – tests found bone marrow from his brother, the most likely donor, would not be compatible.
“I had three months to live,” he said. This was seven years ago. Then, he was offered the last place on a clinical trial for a new untested cancer drug. This was Glivec, now a successful drug. Mr Hampson Silk has been in remission for six years.
The Government increased funding for cancer research but there were still treatments which required testing before being publicly available, he said. “There is a plethora of drugs waiting on laboratory benches to get out to patients,” he said.
Leukaemia expert Charlie Craddock, director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Centre at University Hospital Birmingham, has been raising money for a long time – to fund treatment for his patients. He said new treatments had become available because of major advances in understanding how cancer works.
“It is not clear we can use that information to design ‘magic bullet’ drugs which specifically target leukaemia,” he said., leaving healthy cells undamaged.”