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'Free advertising' for abortion, fertility drugs linked to childhood cancer and Big Pharma wages drug war

A round-up of the health news headlines on Tuesday 24 April

Pharmaceutical company Novartis has waged war on four PCTs for using a cheaper alternative to its Lucentis drug, which treats loss of vision, the BBC claims.

The four under fire, NHS Southampton, NHS Hampshire, NHS Isle of Wight and NHS Portsmouth agreed last year to fund Avastin at £60 an injection for wet age-related macular degeneration.

However, the drug company has claimed this is unsafe. It is seeking a judicial review against the PCTs' decision to fund Avastin treatment, which must be used off licence as it has not been approved for use in the eyes.

Novartis said: 'It is unacceptable to put the safety of patients at risk through the widespread use of an unlicensed treatment when a licensed medicine is available.'

But the PCTs have said that the drug is safe, and is commonly used to treat AMD in the US.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that French researchers have found a link between a certain fertility treatment and increased risk of leukaemia in their children.

Use of ovarian stimulation drugs was associated with more than doubling the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common type, and acute myeloid leukaemia, a rarer form, in a study of 2,445 children.

However, the researchers found that there was also an increased risk for women who struggle for years to become pregnant and conceive naturally, suggesting leukaemia might be linked with lower fertility. 

'It has always been hypothesised that assisted reproductive technologies may be involved in the onset of childhood cancer as they involve repeated treatment at the time of conception and or manipulation of the sperm and egg. And it is now established that a majority of acute leukaemia have a pre-natal (pre-birth) origin,' said Dr Jeremie Rudant from the INSERM research institute in Villejuif, Paris.

The Telegraph reports that the BBC is set to broadcast a live show from an abortion clinic.

The radio programme will have interviews with women undergoing treatment, doctors and counsellors.

A BBC spokesman said: 'Victoria Derbyshire's programme from the clinic and our coverage later that day will be robust and challenging and will offer an opportunity for both sides to discuss their views.' 

Unsurprisingly, pro-life campaigners called it "free advertising" for abortion while pro-choice campaigners said it would help women understand the realities of abortion. Nadine Dorries, MP must have been unavailable for comment.

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