Groundbreaking cancer studies deliver “incredibly impressive” results: According to a leading hospital, seriously ill people go into remission for months and years.
The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester said its experimental work on blood cancers such as myeloma is resulting in the vast majority of patients responding to treatment, while seriously ill people go into remission over months and years.
The foundation is currently running around 30 clinical trials on blood cancer, including five on myeloma, a disease that develops from plasma cells in the bone marrow.
Many of the patients in the studies have run out of other treatment options or are down to their last, making the results even more amazing.
dr Emma Searle, a consultant hematologist at Christie, said that a number of new immunotherapy drugs so experimental they don’t yet have a name are causing some patients, such as those with myeloma, to have their cancers go down to undetectable levels.
“The results of this type of study — with drugs that allow the immune system to recognize and attack myeloma — are incredibly impressive,” she said.
“When we use the drugs alone, we see a response in over two-thirds of patients who no longer have standard treatment options.
“And when the drugs are used in combination … we see reactions in over 90 percent of patients.”
She said immunotherapy drugs, already used in some other cancers, would “absolutely” change the face of blood cancer treatment.
dr Searle added, “These drugs represent a major breakthrough in this cancer, allowing patients without standard treatment options to achieve remission, in many cases over months or years.”
“When the drugs are used alone, they achieve a remission in most patients that lasts one to two years.
“When combined with other myeloma drugs, it’s likely that the responses and impact on life expectancy will last even longer.”
dr Searle, who is funded by the Christie charity, said she didn’t expect immunotherapy to work so well for blood cancer, adding, “These are really fantastic results.”
Blood cancers can be difficult to control, and doctors often find that patients are very ill because their entire immune system is compromised.
Patients with myeloma used to survive three to five years, although the latest data suggest that half of patients are still alive after ten years.
There are around 6,000 new myeloma cases in the UK each year.
Although some of the new immunotherapies being tested are still only available in clinical trials in Manchester and London, there is hope that they will see wider use across the UK.
One multiple myeloma patient benefiting from a clinical trial at Christie is former pediatric nurse Jan Ross, 57, from south Liverpool.
dr Searle said: “Jan is on some sort of immunotherapy drug in combination with a standard medication.
“We know that the (standard) pill alone no longer works well for her, but in this study it seems to help the immunotherapy work even better.”
Ms Ross began treatment for her myeloma in November last year and achieved complete remission in just seven months.
She experienced relatively few side effects from the new drug, such as brittle nails and some loss of taste.
Before the immunotherapy, she got infection after infection, but she hasn’t had any since starting the new treatment.
Ms Ross is now enjoying life and recently traveled to France on her first holiday since her illness.
She said: “Since my diagnosis I’ve taken a lot of different medications, each with side effects that have been really challenging and impacted my quality of life.
“The myeloma could only be controlled for a short time in the first two and a half years.
“Thanks to this amazing new study drug, the cancer can no longer be detected after just seven months.
“I would encourage anyone who meets the criteria for an investigational drug to embrace it with confidence, or at least explore your options.
“You too might get the positive news I just got.”