Every rectal cancer patient in a small clinical drug trial conducted by New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has seen their cancer go into remission after receiving an experimental immunotherapy treatment. Researchers published the findings in The New England Journal of Medicine, June 5, 2009.
Sascha Roth was one of the victims of the trial. She told the New York Times she was about to fly to Manhattan to receive weeks of radiation treatment when she received the Memorial Sloan Kettering results. They informed her she had been declared cancer-free.
“I told my family. They didn’t believe me,”Roth.
This was also true for other participants in the trial. All of the cases seemed to be free from cancer and were undetectable through a physical, endoscopy PET or MRI scans.
According to Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr., Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s lead author of the study, he didn’t know of any other studies in which the treatment could completely eliminate cancer from every patient.
“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,”He stated.
All of the patients had locally advanced rectal cancer – which means that tumors had spread in the rectum and sometimes to the lymph nodes but not to other organs – as well as a rare genetic mutation called mismatch repair deficiency (MMRd).
The patients received six months’ treatment using an immunotherapy drug, Dostarlimab from GlaxoSmithKline. This was in addition to the funding of the research. According to reports, the cost of each dose was approximately $11,000 and patients were administered three times a week for six consecutive months.
According to Dr. David Agus (CBS News Medical Contributor), the drug exposes cancer cells, so that the immune system can destroy and identify them. “This new treatment is a type of immunotherapy, a treatment that blocks the ‘don’t eat me’ signal on cancer cells enabling the immune system to eliminate them,”He stated.
Even after six months or more of follow-ups, the trial patients showed no sign of cancer. This meant they didn’t need to be treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery. Patients who were treated for cancer during the trial have not been diagnosed with it again. They are now cancer-free for six to 25 years.
It’s also worth noting that none of the patients suffered any serious side effects from the drug, unlike what could have happened if they had undergone surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, which have permanent effects on fertility, sexual health, and bowel and bladder function.
Researchers are now encouraged by the results of the trial and agree with them that more research is needed. They also reiterated the fact that 100% of patients who remitted were a promising sign.
A new trial will include approximately 30 patients. This should provide a clearer picture about how safe and efficient the drug is.
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