Miracles are real. At least that’s what doctors are saying about a “scientific miracle” that sent 18 rectal cancer patients into remission after taking an experimental drug in a clinical trial led by New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Imagine going into your next checkup to see how a particular drug is working to treat your cancer only to find out that your tumors have disappeared completely. This was the reality for patients who took a drug called dostarlimab for six months, a result scientists have never seen in the history of cancer research.
“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, an author of a paper published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine says.
In fact, a complete remission of every patient is “unheard of”, according to Dr. Alan P. Venook, a colorectal cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
As you can expect if you’ve ever received life-changing news, there were a lot of “happy tears” for the patients who got the shock of a lifetime: they would no longer need further treatment. Even better? Most of the patients experienced no clinically significant complications, according to Venook. So, what exactly does this all mean? Have doctors finally found a cure?
Dr. Venook says it means that “either they did not treat enough patients or, somehow, these cancers are just plain different.”
How dostarlimab works to treat cancer
Essentially, the medication, which was given every three weeks for about six months, unmasks cancer cells by allowing the immune system to identify and destroy them. Checkpoint inhibitors have been treating melanoma and other cancers for a while. However, they have recently been introduced as part of the routine care for colorectal cancers.
Many reactions to checkpoint inhibitors such as dostarlimab can easily be managed. However, three to five percent of patients may experience more severe complications such as muscle weakness and difficulty chewing and swallowing.
What does this mean for the future of cancer?
More research needs to be done on this “small but compelling” study.
“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 University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center says. True enough, the results are “remarkable” and “unprecedented”, however, they would need to be