At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, a study was conducted that yielded amazing results for rectal cancer patients.
18 individuals who took the same drug saw their cancer disappear completely, making it a historic moment in the world of cancer treatment. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was led by Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr. and was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline.
🚨 Breaking #ASCO22 News: A new study from MSK experts @AndreaCercek and Luis Diaz demonstrates remarkable results when leveraging #immunotherapy alone to beat back #RectalCancer that had not spread to other tissues. https://t.co/IsbfWavTiE (1/3)
— Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (@MSKCancerCenter) June 5, 2022
Even though it was a small trial, the findings are incredibly hopeful and open up new possibilities in the field. The patients who participated in the study felt overwhelmed by the positive outcome, with all of them now in total remission, according to The New York Times.
Dr. Diaz stated that there is no previous study where a treatment has completely eliminated cancer in every patient. He stated that this is a historic moment in the history of cancer treatment. Dr. Alan P. Venook, a specialist in colorectal cancer from the University of California, San Francisco, agrees that achieving full remission in every patient is exceptional. Additionally, the treatment did not cause any significant complications for the patients. It is common for about 20% of patients to experience negative side effects from drugs like dostarlimab, a checkpoint inhibitor, which was the medication taken by the patients in this study.
“There were a lot of happy tears.”
It was a small trial, just 18 rectal cancer patients, every one of whom took the same drug.
But the results were astonishing. The cancer vanished in every single patient. https://t.co/mYnlfUkKAs
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 5, 2022
“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Dr. Diaz said.
According to Dr. Venook, the reason for the lack of success in the study could be attributed to the fact that not enough patients were treated. He also pointed out that the cancer treatment used might have varied significantly. During a six-month period, patients received dostarlimab every three weeks, with each dose costing approximately $11,000.
The study was based on the clinical trial conducted by Dr. Diaz in 2017, which was funded by Merck. Eighty-six individuals with metastatic cancer were given the checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab for a maximum of two years. Results showed that tumors either shrank or remained stable in about one-third to one-half of the patients, leading to a longer lifespan. Remarkably, tumors disappeared in 10% of the participants.
To ensure more favorable outcomes, researchers selected patients at an earlier stage of the disease, before it had a chance to spread.
Very proud of our study published in @NEJM. 100% clinical complete response with dostarlimab alone in mismatch repair-deficient locally advanced #RectalCancer. No radiation or surgery! @ASCO #ASCO22 @MSKCancerCenter https://t.co/sZypoHBtj7
— Andrea Cercek (@AndreaCercek) June 5, 2022
At 38 years old, Sascha Roth was the first person to undergo the clinical trial. A runner and co-manager of a family furniture business, she experienced rectal bleeding in 2019 but otherwise felt healthy. After a biopsy was performed on a tumor discovered during a sigmoidoscopy, her gastroenterologist informed her that she had cancer.
This news was devastating to Roth, who had initially planned to begin chemotherapy at Georgetown University. Instead, she chose to participate in the trial. Upon its completion, Roth was set to travel to New York for further treatment, including radiation, chemotherapy, and potentially surgery. However, she received the surprising news that would change her plans.
Dr. Andrea Cercek, a co-author of the paper and an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, informed the patient that their scans showed no presence of cancer.
Even after two years, the patient continues to be cancer-free and did not require additional treatment. This outcome was not unique as the patient was one of 18 others who also had similar results. Dr. Cercek expressed her joy with “a lot of happy tears.” The study has great potential to reach even more patients in the future.