Small cancer trial achieves unprecedented results with remission in all patients

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A small clinical trial that included a dozen rectal cancer patients succeeded in achieving a complete remission in all participants, a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed.

All 12 patients took the drug dostarlimab, known as checkpoint inhibitors – drugs that strengthen the ability of immunity cells to destroy cancer cells – every 21 days for a period of six months, the New York Times reported, adding that the drug costs around $11,000 per dose.

The participants saw their tumors disappear as the cancer completely vanished and was no longer detected by physical exam, endoscopy, PET scans or M.R.I. scans.

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Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr., one of the paper’s authors, said this is the only study he knows of that resulted in complete remission in all patients.

“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” Diaz said.

Participants had endured harsh treatments such as chemotherapy and surgeries which risked complications such as the need for colostomy bags – a disposable bag that collects waste from the body.

After completing treatment with dostarlimab, researchers followed up on patient cases for at least six months. At the time of publishing the study on June 5, none of them had shown any signs the cancer recurrence after remission and none of them underwent any surgeries or needed chemotherapy.

Dr. Hanna K. Sanoff, a researcher at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, but was not involved in the study, wrote an editorial about the topic.

It was “compelling,” she said, however, it remains unclear if the patients are cured.

“Very little is known about the duration of time needed to find out whether a clinical complete response to dostarlimab equates to cure,” Sanoff said in the editorial.

Another cancer expert, Dr. Kimmie Ng at Harvard Medical School, lauded the results of the trial as “remarkable and unprecedented,” but noted they need to be replicated.

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