SKIN cancer patients in the North-East are to be among the first in the country to be treated with a promising new drug.

A team at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research in Newcastle is recruiting patients for a clinical trial of the skin cancer drug vismodegrib.

The Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, will become only the third centre in the UK - after Cambridge and Manchester - to offer the drug as part of a clinical trial.

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Vismodegib has been shown to shrink tumours or heal visible lesions in 43 per cent of patients with locally advanced basal cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carnoma, known as BCC, is a non-melanoma typic of skin cancer and the most common form of cancer in Europe.

The condition is usually treated with surgery but when it becomes advanced it can become difficult for surgeons to operate.

It is estimated there could be around 700 people suffering from advanced BCC in the UK.

Professor Ruth Plummer, consultant oncologist at the NICR, said: 'Those who suffer from advanced BCC often experience disfiguring surgery to the face, neck and head, which can not only be painful, but also unpleasant. We have already seen promising trial results for vismodegib and with a trial now open in Newcastle, patients with advanced BCC now have a new, non-surgical treatment option."

Treatment will be given at the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre at the Freeman Hospital.

Like most skin cancers, BCC is caused by long-term or excessive exposure to the sun and is most often found on the head and neck The new drug is known as a biological therapy and works by blocking a signal which results in cells becoming cancerous.