Remission seen in every rectal cancer patient in small study of drug

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A new drug called dostarlimab saw astonishing results in a 12-person rectal cancer trial: Every one of the dozen patients went into remission.

All the patients were still in remission in a six-month follow-up of the trial as well. Additionally, none of the patients had received chemoradiotherapy or undergone any preventative surgery, and no cases of progression or recurrence were reported during the volunteers’ follow-up appointments, according to the study.

The drug, sold under GlaxoSmithKline’s brand name of Jemperli, has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the treatment of certain endometrial cancers.

The study was published to The New England Journal of Medicine, and even though it featured so few patients, such a success rate is “unheard of,” according to Alan Venook, a colorectal cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco who spoke to The New York Times.

The authors of the trial caution that while their study is promising, it was quite small, and further research featuring more diverse ethnic backgrounds will need to be conducted to see the true efficacy of dostarlimab.

By the end of the trial, it is expected that there will be 30 total participants, which could give a better idea of how safe and effective the cancer-fighting drug truly is, according to CBS.

But most experts and rectal cancer specialists are celebrating the news as great cause of optimism.

Dostarlimab costs about $11,000 per dose for a standard course of treatment, according to the Times, and is administered every three weeks for six months’ time.

The drug also had what experts are calling a “surprisingly” low rate of side effects, which were generally well-tolerated, especially when compared to conventional cancer treatments.

Typically, treatments can leave patients with a lower quality of life due to “permanent effects on fertility, sexual health, bowel and bladder function,” Andrea Cercek, a medical oncologist and principal investigator in the study stated in a news release.

“This drug is one of a class of drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors. These are immunotherapy medicines that work not by directly attacking the cancer itself, but actually getting a person’s immune system to essentially do the work,” Hanna Sanoff of the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center told NPR.

“These are drugs that have been around in melanoma and other cancers for quite a while, but really have not been part of the routine care of colorectal cancers until fairly recently,” Sanoff added.

The first participant in the trial told the Times that she recalled crying happy tears at the news her cancer had gone into remission. Sascha Roth said that when she told her family, “they didn’t believe [her],” but that two years later, she is still cancer free.

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