Dad with cancer all over his body has made a complete recovery after breakthrough new drug
A dad whose cancer had spread all over his body and sprouted 26 tumours in his abdomen has made a "complete" recovery with a "breakthrough" new drug.
Mike Chettle was preparing to die after exhausting all his treatment options. after the cancer in his small intestine and colon had spread to his liver and bones.
He was in a tremendous amount of pain and no longer able to turn his neck.
In a last-ditch bid to save his life, doctors offered him the chance to take part in a clinical trial of a drug called pembrolizumab.
It is a new type of immunotherapy treatment which harnesses the body's own immune system to hunt out and attack cancer cells.
With nothing to lose, the American agreed to take part. Incredibly, within just eight weeks, his symptoms subsided, and he could move his neck again.
By the time his daughter's wedding took place a few months later, he was able to walk her down the aisle.
Two years on, he has experienced a "complete response" to the treatment and almost all of his tumours have disappeared without trace.
The treatment that saved his life has been named one of the year's top canceradvances at the world's biggest cancer conference in Chicago, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Mike said: "It was spreading fast,” he recalled. “I was limping. I couldn’t turn my neck. I was in a lot of pain.
"I feel like I’ve been blessed to have good doctors who led me to where I am, to be in that trial."
He praised the cancer doctor who referred him to the researchers behind the trial atJohns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre, in Baltimore, Maryland. "I probably wouldn't be alive if he hadn't sent me there," he added.
Mike benefitted from both precision medicine and immunotherapy, two of the most exciting new approaches to cancer treatment currently being developed.
Dr Dung T Le, who co-led the trial, said: “This study is really about bridging immunotherapy and genomics for the benefit of patients."
Mike had known that he had a family history of Lynch syndrome, an inherited condition that increases the risk for certain types of cancer.
Doctors used genetic testing to analyse his cancer, and found the abnormality in his genes might make his tumours more susceptible to treatment with the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab.
Their theory proved correct, and tailoring a specific treatment to Mike saved his life.
They found MIke had a genetic abnormality called mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency.
This undermines the ability of a cell to repair DNA damage and therefore fight cancer.
The drug pembrolizumab specifically helps fix that genetic abnormality - meaning the cells are then much better equipped to find and kill cancer in the body.
Dr Le said: "Opening the door to this effective new therapy is a breakthrough for this subset of patients with metastatic colon cancer and other hard-to-treat cancers."
The new treatment comes with minimal side effects compared to what Mike experienced previously with chemotherapy, and is also more convenient.
He currently receives a half-hour infusion every two weeks, as opposed to four-or five-hour infusions for chemotherapy.
"It’s satisfying to see patients like Mike respond and do well,” said Dr Le.
“While he still has to come see us every couple of weeks, we hope soon that he can transition into the stage of care called surveillance, a time when we actively monitor him after treatment is no longer needed. He may only need scans every few months.”
The researchers believe the study will have broad implications for patients with a wide range of cancers going forward.
Scientists believe thousands more patients with terminal cancer could go into remission if immunotherapy drugs are used in combination.
Only around a fifth of patients currently get a good response to immunotherapy drugs, and experts are urgently looking for ways to drive up the number.
Clinical trials are now starting to combine immunotherapy drugs instead of using them alone to increase their power.
Adding immunotherapy to standard treatments is also producing positive results.
In one new trial described as "one of the most exciting presentations" of ASCO by its chief medical officer, Richard Schilsky, patients with multiple myeloma experienced extraordinary results.
All 498 patients had cancer that had come back or had not responded to treatment. Half were given the immunotherapy drug Darzalax (daratumumab) in combination with two standard treatments bortezomib and dexamethasone,
while half received the standard treatments on their own.
The results showed that people given immunotherapy plus standard drugs had a 61% reduced risk of dying or their cancer getting worse than those given standard treatments.
Response rates also doubled with the addition of Darzalax. Some 59% of patients saw tumours shrink significantly, compared to 29% in the other group.
A fifth of patients (19%) had a complete response - which means doctors could find no trace of cancer in their bodies - compared to 9% given standard treatment.
Dr Antonio Palumbo, of the University of Torino in Italy, who led the study, described the results as "unprecedented" in myeloma, which is regarded as incurable and is extremely difficult to treat.
In other research, combining two immunotherapy drugs produced a response for almost half of patients with advanced lung cancer, which usually kills within a few months.
Some 38 patients were given two daily immunotherapy jabs, nivolumab and ipilimumab, and 47% responded, with more than 83% still alive after a year.
Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician said the idea of combining immunotherapy drugs had the potential to benefit thousands of people in the UK.
He said more research was needed but added: "Its very exciting as it looks as though we can increase the power of the treatment.
"It looks at though if we can find new ways to combine different immune treatments, we'll be able to treat more patients effectively, and potentially to start using them in other types of cancer."