A new clinical trial for pancreatic cancer patients in Ontario is set to start this spring, following a high-profile push from a mayor battling the disease.
The University Health Network has only operated the Irreversible Electroporation trial program — also known as NanoKnife — for liver tumours, but that's now expanding with up to $2.1 million in funding from the provincial government.
Eligible pancreatic cancer patients will soon be able to access the minimally invasive treatment that delivers an electric current to the tumour using two fine needles guided by ultrasound or CT scan.
Hector MacMillan, the mayor of the municipality of Trent Hills, had hoped to get OHIP funding to access the procedure in the United States. But when he was denied he launched a vocal campaign and did not mince words, accusing the health ministry of murdering him.
He ultimately turned to Germany, where the procedure was much less expensive, and raised money online to fund the surgery there. MacMillan had been told he wouldn't make it to Christmas 2016, but after the procedure he said his prognosis is "five plus years."
MacMillan cheered Tuesday's clinical trial news.
"Some things are just absolutely worth fighting for," he said.
MacMillan was a "strong advocate" for the technology, Health Minister Eric Hoskins acknowledged, but said the turning point was UHN's proposal.
"I had come to understand that there was promise, but it had not been proven and so I think the moment when University Health Network came forward ... with an opportunity for us to be part of a research trial, a clinical trial, to hopefully prove the effectiveness of this emerging, new, promising technology, we felt that it was an appropriate thing to do," he said.
The treatment shrinks inoperable tumours without damaging surrounding tissues, so the government said it could be an option for patients who aren't candidates for conventional treatment or for whom other treatments haven't worked.
"Clinical trials are important for determining the effectiveness of new treatments for cancer patients," Cancer Care Ontario president and CEO Michael Sherar said in a statement. "Cancer Care Ontario will work with the University Health Network to evaluate the evidence from the trial to ensure Ontario cancer patients continue to receive high quality care."