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High Court Orders Pioneering Treatment for Asbestos Victim

If you are diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer, you should immediately seek legal assistance in order to ensure you get the very best medical care, as was demonstrated by a striking case in which a victim's former employer was ordered to cover the cost of pioneering therapy which an oncologist had advised presented the only chance of extending his life.

After the man developed mesothelioma – a cancer of the lining of the lungs almost invariably associated with asbestos – action was taken on his behalf against his former employer, alleging that he had been exposed to the substance at work. The employer settled his claim for a lump sum of £220,000 and agreed, subject to certain conditions, to pay for his privately funded immunotherapy treatment.

After conventional chemotherapy had run its course, his treatment was progressed to immunotherapy, an innovative new treatment that aims to stimulate a patient's own immune system to fight cancer. The therapy has not yet been authorised by public authorities for use in the treatment of mesothelioma, either in the UK or elsewhere, and is not available on the NHS.

An initial course of immunotherapy had brought a partial response, but the man's condition was deteriorating and it was proposed to continue the treatment using different drugs. The cost of that treatment was put at £21,714. The employer declined to pay that bill on the basis that there was only anecdotal evidence that the treatment was beneficial to mesothelioma patients.

After legal proceedings were commenced, the High Court found that, on a true interpretation of the settlement agreement, the employer was obliged to pay for the relevant treatment. An eminent oncologist had advised that continued immunotherapy could extend the man's life by months, if not a year.

Although there was no data concerning the effectiveness of immunotherapy in treating mesothelioma, the Court noted that it would be remarkable if no medical practitioner could justify a decision unless based on peer-reviewed clinical studies. In the circumstances, the proposed treatment was reasonable.

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