A trial consisting of just eighteen rectal cancer patients has found results that were previously unheard of. A New York Times article reported that the cancer vanished in all patients who had taken the drug. Physical exams, endoscopies, PET scans, and M.R.I. scans did not detect it.
A drug called dostarlimab was administered to the patients every three weeks for a duration for six months. It costs roughly $11,000 per dose. Dostarlimab works by unmasking cancer cells so that the immune system can identify and destroy them. Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline sponsored the trials.
“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr. of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said in the New York Times article. Dr. Diaz is one of the authors of the paper that documented these results. The New England Journal of Medicine has published the same.
Dr. Alan P. Venook, a colorectal cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, also added that the patients did not have significant complications. Dostarlimab is a checkpoint inhibitor – a kind of drug that usually causes adverse reactions for one in five patients. Three to five percent of patients may even suffer from severe complications. But here, that was not the case. “Either they did not treat enough patients or, somehow, these cancers are just plain different,” Dr. Venook said in the article by New York Times.
The patients believed that post the study, they would have to undergo treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and life-altering surgeries. They had never anticipated that their tumours would disappear entirely. Now, it seems they do not require any further procedures. “Very little is known about the duration of time needed to find out whether a clinical complete response to dostarlimab equates to cure,” Dr. Hanna K. Sanoff of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, wrote in an editorial. Dr. Sanoff called the study “small but compelling”. Further, the New York Times article quoted Dr. Kimmie Ng, colorectal cancer expert at Harvard Medical School, who said that the results are “remarkable”, but need to be replicated.
Still, for those involved in the study, the drug proved helpful. These results may well pave the way for large-scale trials to take place, and could hopefully become the next big breakthrough in cancer research.