The world may soon be able to get rid of a dreaded disease that is feared for the sheer number of lives it claims — cancer. An experimental cancer drug appears to have cured every single patient in a small clinical trial conducted in the US. The 12 patients, all of whom had been diagnosed with rectal cancer, entered remission after taking dostarlimab over a six-month period. The new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published on Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine, about how it would bring change and how medicine is to be practiced, cancer specialists said.
In a surprising result for an ongoing medical trial, 12 rectal cancer patients were completely healed of the disease after taking a drug for six months. The patients underwent a series of medical exams — physical exam, endoscopy, bioscopy, PET scans, and MRI scans — and none of the reports showed any signs of the tumor.
The initial purpose of this study was listed to find out whether the study drug, TSR-042 (commonly called dostarlimab), followed by standard chemoradiotherapy and standard surgery is an effective treatment for advanced deficient MisMatch Repair (dMMR) solid tumors. The medical trial was supported by the Simon and Eve Colin Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, Stand Up to Cancer, Swim Across America, and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
Participants of the trial with mismatch repair-deficient stage II or III rectal adenocarcinoma were given the drug every three weeks, for six months. According to the initial plan, the treatment was to be followed by standard chemotherapy and surgery, and patients who had a clinical complete response would proceed without both. After at least six months of follow-up, all 12 patients showed a clinical complete response with no signs of the tumor.
“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Dr. Diaz said. Dr. Alan P Venook, a colorectal cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved with the study, said he also thought this was a first. Complete remission in every single patient is “unheard-of,” he said. These rectal cancer patients had faced grueling treatments — chemotherapy, radiation, and, most likely, life-altering surgery that could result in bowel, urinary and sexual dysfunction. Some would need colostomy bags.
The patients had almost given up hopes after failing to recover after going through grueling chemotherapy and radiation sessions. Some of them even underwent “life-altering” surgeries, resulting in the bowel, urinary, and sexual dysfunction. Some of them even had to use colostomy bags.
Not expecting their cancerous tumors to subside, they agreed to be part of the dostarlimab trial. They even expected their current treatment modes to continue. But to their pleasant surprise, they were taken off the painful chemotherapy and radiation sessions and also told that there would be no need to go under the knife.
Another surprise in store for the patients was the complete absence of significant post-treatment complications, which are usually associated with other forms of cancer treatment. Moreover, there were no signs of recurrence of cancer in the patients until 25 months from the end of the trial, sponsored by the drug company GlaxoSmithKline.
The patients were administered dostarlimab every three weeks for six months. The medication aimed to unmask cancer cells, allowing the body’s immune system to identify and destroy them naturally. Such drugs, known as ‘checkpoint inhibitors’, usually have some kind of adverse reaction in 20% of patients who undergo the treatments. Nearly 60% of patients have severe complications, including muscle weakness. But no negative reaction was seen in the patients involved in the dostarlimab study.
The drug, if approved for mass use in the future, is not going to come cheap as the trial doses cost $11,000 each or nearly Rs 8.55 lakh per dose.