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Cancer drug cheaper than a rupee

A new herbal drug controls side-effects of radiation suffered by oral cancer patients, reports Ramesh Babu.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2007 14:45 IST

A scientist, a cancer specialist and an Ayurveda physician in Kerala have filed a patent for a herbal mixture to control the painful side effects of radiation suffered by oral cancer patients. One-fourth of the world’s oral cancer patients are in India.

"It is not a drug. It is like a mouthwash or a healthcare product," professor M Radhakrishna Pillai, director of the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology told the Hindustan Times. "Gargling it gives the patient immediate relief."

If plans go well, the mouthwash is expected to be sold across medical counters in six months. But the research trio secretively refuse to give away the identity of the herbs, that they said are akin to Grandma’s traditional home cures for ailments.

There is another hint - the herbs are easily available in south India and across the Kerala countryside.

The abundant supply is perhaps one reason the still unnamed product will be available at less than a rupee per dose. The low price would benefit India’s large number of oral cancer patients, especially men. According to a recent study by the Indian Council of Medical Research, oral cancer rates in India are as high as over 1.6 lakh new cases a year.

The research group, also from the oncology institute Regional Cancer Centre (RCC), claimed that similar drugs in the US are priced at $200 a dose. "We have approached the Department of Ayush, which funded the research with aid from the World Health Organisation, to apply for a patent," said Pillai. "Once it's patented, we will license it for commercial development."

Oral cancer is a painful disease, and radiation treatment affects the saliva glands, leading to difficulty in swallowing and digestion. "The new mixture induces saliva flow very well," said Dr K Ramdas of the RCC. "Being anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, it also reduces pain considerably."

Despite vigorous awareness campaigns against smoking and chewing tobacco or pan masala that are ongoing nationwide, researchers like Ramdas are receiving patients as young as 10 to 15-year-old boys with pre-cancerous growths due to years of chewing tobacco.

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First Published: Feb 13, 2007 14:45 IST