A new cancer drug called dostarlimab is giving hope for beating rectal and possibly other forms of cancer after a trial resulted in the disappearance of tumors in all fourteen patients.
Researchers in the field of colorectal cancer are hailing the study, published earlier in June in the New England Journal of Medicine, as a groundbreaking development that could lead to new treatments for other cancers, as well.
“I don’t think anyone has seen this before, where every single patient has had the tumor disappear,” said Andrea Cercek, an oncologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the lead author of the study.
The patients all shared the same genetic instability in their rectal cancer and had not yet undergone treatment.
A new cancer drug called dostarlimab
Each was given nine doses of intravenous dostarlimab, a relatively new drug designed to block a specific cancer cell protein that, when expressed, can cause the immune system to withhold its cancer-fighting response.
After six months, scans that once showed knotty, discolored tumors instead revealed smooth, pink tissue. No traces of cancer were detected in scans, biopsies, or physical exams.
“All 14 patients? The odds are exceedingly low and really unheard of in oncology,” Cercek said.
The results were so successful that none of the fourteen patients who completed the trial needed the planned follow-up treatment of chemo-radiation or surgery, nor did any have significant complications from the drug.
Four other patients in the trial are still undergoing treatment but are, thus far, showing the same promising results, the Washington Post reported.
Even better, the drug, dostarlimab, has shown no side effects or downsides—unlike other treatments.
“Radiation is effective in eliminating the tumor but it impacts the patient negatively. Up to 30 percent of those who undergo surgery need colostomy bags,” Cercek told The Washington Post.
“[Radiation] also can result in sexual dysfunction. They get better but they are not functionally the same,” he reported.
According to Cercek, the likelihood of the fourteen case studies being in remission is a trillion to one. Based on that, she said, “I am very optimistic about the success [of the drug].”
She hopes to see the drug approved by the FDA “as soon as possible.”