Sunday, June 19, 2022

Small study shows that experimental drug makes rectal cancers vanish in 100 percent of the cases

A small rectal cancer clinical trial has had an unexpected result — remission in every patient.

According to a story by Gina Kolata in recent editions of The New York Times, the cancer vanished in each of the 18 patients, "undetectable by physical exam, endoscopy, PET scans or MRI scans." 

Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr.
Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr. of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who published a paper on the trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, is quoted as saying he knew of no other study in which a treatment completely obliterated a cancer in every patient. "I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer" he says.

That view is confirmed by Dr. Alan P. Venice, a colorectal cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, was wasn't involved in the study. That kind of record, he says, is "unheard of."

The patients entered the study with the expectation that they might face chemotherapy, radiation and, most likely surgery that cold result in bowel, urinary and sexual dysfunction — and require colostomy bags. All 18 were pleasantly surprised to find that no such treatments were necessary.

Dr. Andrea Cercek
"There were lots of happy tears," Dr. Andrea Cercek, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering and a co-author of the paper, is quoted.

The immunotherapy drug the patients were given every three weeks for six months — dostarlimab, a checkpoint inhibitor produced by GlaxoSmithKline, which sponsored the clinical trial — costs about $11,000 per dose. "It unmasks cancer cells, allowing the immune system to identify and destroy them," the story says.

The study's authors indicate that although the earliest patient to complete the trial is more than two years post-treatment, many have only been involved for six months, and all patients will be monitored for at least five years.

Dr. Julie Gralow
A follow-up story by Kim Bellware and Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post notes that the study's results marked "the first time immunotherapy alone eliminated the need for chemotherapy, radiation or surgery."

The Post story quotes Dr. Julie Gralow, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, as commenting that "I'm excited when you see such a dramatic response. It gives me hope we can find such a dramatic [treatment] for other cancers, too." 

More information about clinical trials can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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