Small Trial of Cancer Drug Leads to Remission for Every Patient: 'A Lot of Happy Tears'

All 12 patients saw their rectal cancer disappear, which doctors believe is the "first time" that has ever happened with a cancer drug trial

Cancer Disappears After Experimental Use of Immunotherapy
Woman taking medication. Photo: getty

Patients and doctors are in shock after early trials of a drug to treat rectal cancer led to remission in every participant.

The trial was small, with just 12 patients, but after taking the drug dostarlimab for six months there was no identifiable cancer in any of the participants, with all of their scans coming back completely clear.

"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, one of the study authors, told The New York Times.

"What's really remarkable is this is the first time I know of in solid tumor oncology where we've had a 100% complete response, and we've completely omitted the normal standard of care," he added to Stat News.

The patients had expected to go through the usual, difficult treatments for rectal cancer, which include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and often leave them needing colostomy bags and with permanent complications like bowel, urinary and erectile dysfunction. But the experimental trial worked better than anyone imagined.

None of the 12 patients need further treatment.

"There were a lot of happy tears," Dr. Andrea Cercek, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a co-author of the study, published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine, told the Times.

For the trial, which was backed by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, patients took dostarlimab every three weeks for six months. The patients were all in similar stages of their cancer — it was locally advanced in the rectum but had not spread to other organs. The researchers believed that dostarlimab, a checkpoint inhibitor that exposes cancer cells to allow the immune system to fight them, would work well in the patients.

RELATED VIDEO: Jeff Bridges Says He Was 'Pretty Close to Dying' from COVID While in Chemo for Cancer

Other cancer researchers who have reviewed the results told the Times that the drug looks promising, but a larger-scale trial is needed to see if it will work for more patients and if the cancers are truly in remission.

For one patient in the trial, Sascha Roth, she has been in the clear for two years now. Cercek was the one to tell her that "there is absolutely no cancer."

"I told my family," Roth told the Times. "They didn't believe me."

"It's incredibly rewarding," Cercek said in a press release from the hospital, "to get these happy tears and happy emails from the patients in this study who finish treatment and realize, 'Oh my God, I get to keep all my normal body functions that I feared I might lose to radiation or surgery.' "

Related Articles