Breakthrough: Cancer ‘Disappears’ In Every Patient During Experimental Immunotherapy Treatment Trial

Four patients and two of the trial’s researchers. Pic: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Some doctors researching for cancer cure have revealed that every patient in a clinical trial saw their cancer disappear after getting an experimental immunotherapy treatment.

A medication named dostarlimab was given to patients with locally advanced rectal cancer for six months in a trial.

All 12 patients’ cancers went into remission, and endoscopy, physical tests, and scans revealed that they were undetectable.

“This is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Dr. Luis Diaz, one of the study’s lead authors and an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told The New York Times.

Despite the findings, doctors cautioned that further research and analysis are needed; nonetheless, the cancer has not returned in any of the patients since the trial finished.

The medicine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is used to treat endometrial cancer and was administered to each patient in the New York-led experiment every three weeks.

These medications, according to scientists, are also used in other cancer treatments, such as melanoma, and do not directly target cancer cells, but rather assist a person’s immune system to recognize and eliminate them.

The researchers reported their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to scientists, the study could lead to new discoveries.

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Scientists have said the research could provide an “early glimpse of a revolutionary treatment shift” but due to the size of the study, more research will be needed and a “longer follow-up” to assess the duration of the response.

How does the medication work?

Dostarlimab is a checkpoint inhibitor, which works not by directly attacking the cancer itself; but driving a person’s immune system to essentially do the work.

These type of immunotherapy drugs do so by blocking proteins that stop the immune system from attacking cancerous cells.

T cells, which typically seek out and destroy cells infected with foreign pathogens; have proteins on them that turn on an immune response and other proteins that turn it off. These are called checkpoint proteins.

Some checkpoint proteins help tell T cells to become active, for example when an infection is present. But if T cells are active for too long, or react to things they shouldn’t, they can start to destroy healthy cells and tissues. So other checkpoints help tell T cells to switch off.

Some cancer cells make high levels of proteins. These can switch off T cells, when they should really be attacking the cancer cells. So the cancer cells are pushing a stop button on the immune system. And the T cells can no longer recognise and kill cancer cells.

Drugs that block checkpoint proteins are therefore called checkpoint inhibitors. They stop the proteins on the cancer cells from pushing the stop button. This turns the immune system back on and the T cells are able to find and attack the cancer cells.

On average, one in five patients have some sort of adverse reaction to checkpoint inhibitors. While most reactions are easily managed, as many as 3 percent to 5 per cent of patients on the medication have more severe complications that, in some cases, result in muscle weakness and difficulty swallowing and chewing.

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