Small scale cancer drug trial cured 100% of patients

Posted on 08-06-2022

All 12 people who received dostarlimab, a lab-made antibody, entered remission from locally advanced rectal cancer

An experimental cancer drug appears to have cured every single patient taking part in a small trial conducted in the US.

All 12 people who received dostarlimab, a lab-made antibody, entered remission from locally advanced rectal cancer after taking the drug regularly over a six-month period.

Doctors in the US had initially planned to follow up the treatment with chemotherapy and surgery, which could have resulted in significant dysfunction, with some patients left needing colostomy bags — but it was not necessary.

By the end of the six-month course, the cancer had vanished in all patients, becoming untraceable by physical exam, endoscopy, PET and MRI scans, and none developed significant complications.

“At the time of this report, no patients had received chemoradiotherapy or undergone surgery, and no cases of progression or recurrence had been reported during follow-up [of between six to 25 months since treatment],” said the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors said although the study was small, the results are “cause for great optimism”.

“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” medical oncologist Luis Diaz Jr of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, which carried out the trial, told The New York Times.

Alan P Venook, a colorectal cancer specialist at the University of California, told the paper the complete remission in every single patient was “unheard of”.

How it works

The medicine, which was administered every three weeks during the period, was initially developed to treat endometrial cancer and is a type of immunotherapy.

The drug works by attaching to a protein on the surface of cancer cells known as PD-1, helping the immune system to recognise and attack the cancer.

In this way, it uses the immune system to help fight the cancer.

Monoclonal antibodies such as dostarlimab are one type of immunotherapy. Others include checkpoint inhibitors, vaccines, cytokines and CAR-T cell therapy.

Medhat Faris, consultant medical oncologist at International Modern Hospital, Dubai, said immunotherapy treatment can boost or change how the immune system works so it can find and attack cancer cells.

“It uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to boost the immune system and help the body find and destroy cancer cells,” he said.

“Immunotherapy can treat many different types of cancer. It can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy.”

Need to wait

But Ananth Pai, medical director and specialist general surgeon at NMC Royal Hospital DIP, Dubai, said more time was needed to fully assess the drug's efficacy.

“This recent trial started a few months ago in double-digit cases. We need to wait for at least two years to see the full response in terms of the chances of a relapse,” he said.

“Moreover, the results are encouraging as the trials focused on mutated cancers — which are around 10 per cent. Hence we need to wait for an elaborate response to evolve for a longer period of say two years or more.”

Dr Faris echoed that sentiment, saying: “While recently published results are impressive and promising, they would need to be replicated and expanded in larger population in multicentres. It is not clear if the medication in question would be useful beyond this specific application [rectal cancer].”

Dr Pai added that “the therapy under discussion is a kind of targeted therapy and is a little expensive for a common man to afford”.

“Once the viability in terms of cost, efficacy in terms of avoiding relapse and efficiency in terms of treating larger groups of cancers and ethnicities is established, this surely would be a boon to humanity and medical practice.”