Experts say there is tremendous promise in stimulating a patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. A few new drugs are already on the market in this area for conditions like advanced melanoma and some subtypes of lung cancer. We have a town meeting discussing this for lung cancer on March 7th in Tampa and a melanoma one on March 28th in Phoenix. In blood cancers, hematologists also see great promise for this approach as we heard from many at the recent American Society of Hematology meeting. And, earlier, Dr. Oliver Press spoke to me about it in lymphoma. But there’s a caution just now: even when experts say they are “excited,” it can be a rough go for patients.
As you may know, as doctors are testing out a new approach like immuno-oncology, they conduct clinical trials. Many trials are designed for the sickest people where their other options have run out. I have a dear friend in Seattle in exactly that situation. He has diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and there is a trial of chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CART) for his condition. He hopes to start participating soon. But like other patients who benefited in chronic lymphocyttic leukemia (CLL), at this point, he is very very sick and debilitated from months of chemo and a stem cell transplant that didn’t last. Our prayer is that he will enter the trial, and miraculously his T cells can be marshaled to finally fight his cancer.
This is nothing like taking a pill to fight a sinus infection. These days the patients in these trials are at very low points. Of course, the researchers are hoping to prove safety and effectiveness and see immuno-oncology approaches used much earlier in the course of a disease for greater benefit. That often happens with new cancer approaches. But today—as immuno-oncology is being studied for a broader range of conditions—many of the patients are very sick, like my friend, and it is their last hope. In my friend’s case, he is now facing additional chemo, so he can qualify for the trial. The journey has been incredibly tough, and we need to be reminded of that.
I welcome your comments.