U.S. officials said Thursday they would send a rare experimental drug to Moscow to help save the life of a brain cancer victim in an unusual mission of mercy that began with a middle-of-the-night overseas plea for help.

The drama began early Tuesday when a California eye specialist was awakened by a telephone call from Moscow, pleading for VM 26, also known as tenipofid, available only in the United States and apparently the only therapy that can save the patient's life.Dr. William Ellis, director of the Eye Center of Northern California, said the critically ill patient was a close friend of renowned Soviet physician and eye surgeon Professor Svyatoslav Fyodorov, and was possibly a high Soviet official.

Ellis, a friend of Fyodorov's, spent the night cutting through red tape. Arrangements were finally made to send the drug, shown in studies to elicit response from 30 percent of brain tumor patients, through an express diplomatic pouch.

Frank Mahaney, a spokesman for the National Cancer Institute, said, "I can confirm the fact that the NCI later this day will be providing the Russian government with an experimental anti-cancer drug called VM 26.

"We are allowed to provide experimental drugs to physicians in unique cases where there must be compassionate and immediate care given."

Mahaney said officials from the Soviet embassy would pick the drug up and see to its shipment.

Fyodorov, director of the Eye Microsurgery Research Institute in Moscow who has operated on Mikhail Gorbachev's brother, is renowned for his development of radial keratotomy, a surgical procedure to correct nearsightedness, and advances for the prevention of blindness. He and Ellis developed a friendship after meeting at several international conferences of eye specialists and together will teach eye surgery techniques in Japan next month.

"Tuesday at 1 a.m. I was awakened from a deep sleep to receive a long-distance phone call from Professor Fyodorov's secretary," Ellis said in an interview.

"There was a poor connection so it was difficult to understand, but Fyodorov was in the operating room, and a very close friend of his and probably a high Soviet official was undergoing neurosurgery for brain cancer."

Ellis said he was asked to help get the medication to the Soviet Union.