Don't like to read?
For the first time in history, a trial of a new cancer drug experiences 100 percent remission. Every new drug developed by scientists is required to go through numerous tests before FDA approval. It is rare to see a 50 percent success rate during early trials. A drug to cure colorectal cancer known as “dostarlimab” was administered to 12 patients every three weeks for six months.
The results have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. All 12 patients had 100 percent remission.
“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Luis A. Diaz Jr., an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and author of the new study,
The doctors had planned to follow up the trial with standard chemoradiotherapy and surgery. However, all 12 patients failed to reveal any residual cell damage, and no further treatment is planned. They were examined every six months. Now, 25 months later, there have been no side effects or cancer cells present.
Of greater interest is none of the patients will experience the devastating side effects of past treatments.
“Surgery and radiation have permanent effects on fertility, sexual health, bowel, and bladder function. The implications for quality of life are substantial, especially in those where standard treatment would impact childbearing potential,” Andrea Cercek, co-author of the study, says in the statement. “As the incidence of rectal cancer is rising in young adults, this approach can have a major impact.”
This experimental treatment is new, and the results in early testing are exciting. If six of the 12 patients had experienced remission, this drug would have been considered, “promising.” So, how does it work?
This drug is one of a class of drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors. These are immunotherapy medicines that work not by directly attacking cancer itself, but actually getting a person’s immune system to essentially do the work. These are drugs that have been around in melanoma and other cancers for quite a while but really have not been part of the routine care of colorectal cancers until fairly recently.
Immunotherapy is a new approach that has shown promise in other treatments. The COVID-19 vaccine was developed based on immunotherapy, and this is why, unlike previous vaccines, it was developed quickly. The polio vaccine and others developed more than sixty years ago relied on using the living organism and a lengthy process of trial and error to create an effective vaccine for the majority.
For more than a century surgery has been the treatment of choice for most cancers. This new study offers hope to both research scientists and prospective patients. For many, the side effects of surgery can be nearly as devasting as the disease itself.
So, what’s the next step for dostarlimab? Most researchers suggest that a larger sampling would offer additional information, and hopefully confidence in this new approach to not only treatment for colorectal, but other forms of cancer receptive to an immunotherapy approach.
It is exciting to think that in the future surgery will be less commonplace. Helping the human body to heal itself reminds me of a scene in one of the original “Star Trek” television shows in 1965 when the crew is on a dying planet and they discover a hospital. One of the crew asks Doctor McCoy about a piece of equipment. The good doctor replies: “That was used when the medical profession attempted to cure their patients by cutting them open.”
By James Turnage
Edited by Sheena Robertson
My nine novels are available on Amazon’s Kindle
Clinical Trials: Immune Response to COVID-19 Vaccine in Immunotherapy (IO) and Non-IO Treated Cancer Patients (VIVACIOUS)
Smithsonian: Small Cancer Trial Resulted in Complete Remission for All Participants
NPR: This experimental drug could change the field of cancer research