A drug study involving people with rectal cancer has remarkably eradicated the tumor in all 18 patients. Though small, the trial astounded practitioners in the field, touting the results as an unprecedented achievement in cancer treatment, reports The New York Times.
Cancer disappeared in all patients
Led by Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the study was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the drug company behind the medicine in the trial, dostarlimab. Dr. Diaz said the study was the first time a cancer treatment successfully eliminated cancer in all patients. “I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Dr. Diaz said.
Rectal cancer patients often have to go through debilitating treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries with often life-altering side effects. The patients in the recent study entered the trial thinking that’s what awaits them as well since no one expected their cancer to go away.
But little did they know that no further treatment would be needed. “There were a lot of happy tears,” said Dr. Andrea Cercek, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and study co-author.
No clinically significant adverse effects
What’s also important to note is that none of the patients experienced clinically significant complications. Typically, one in five patients has some kind of adverse effects from drugs like dostarlimab, also known as checkpoint inhibitors. The patients received the medication every three weeks for over half a year. It works by exposing cancer cells, allowing the immune system to identify and obliterate them.
It was another rectal cancer study from 2017 that inspired Dr. Diaz to conduct the new trial. That one involved administering pembrolizumab, also a checkpoint inhibitor, to 86 patients with metastatic cancer. About one-third to one-half of those patients lived longer because their tumors either shrank or stabilized. Meanwhile, cancer completely disappeared in only 10 percent of the patients.
As such, Dr. Diaz hypothesized that similar treatment would be more successful if administered to patients earlier in the course of the disease, before metastasis. After initially struggling to find a sponsor for the study, Dr. Cercek and Dr. Diaz eventually managed to put together the small trial, which would turn out to be life-changing for the 18 participants.
Source study: New England Journal of Medicine — PD-1 Blockade in Mismatch Repair–Deficient, Locally Advanced Rectal Cancer