Doctors were astonished when a new drug called dostarlimab caused a complete remission of rectal cancer in every single patient in a new trial. Sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, the trial was small, with only 18 patients, and needs to be replicated, but the initial results were “unheard-of.” The trial participants underwent six months of experimental immunotherapy treatment, after which the cancer completely vanished, undetectable by physical exams, endoscopies, MRIs, or PET scans.

  • The author of the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Luis A. Diaz Jr. from Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center, said that it was probably “the first time this has happened in the history of cancer.”
  • The medication was given every three weeks for six months and cost about $11,000 per dose. At the end of the trial, 100% of the patients went into remission without needing any chemotherapy.
  • The doctors at the MSK who wanted to investigate whether immunotherapy alone could treat cancer have also pointed out that they never expected the drug to work this well and that none of the 18 patients in the initial trial had adverse reactions to the drug. That’s remarkable because, on average, one in five patients have some sort of adverse reaction to drugs like the ones the patients took and develop severe complications like muscle weakness or difficulty chewing/swallowing.

How Does Dostarlimab Work?: Dostarlimab is a checkpoint inhibitor drug. It “releases the brake on an immune cell, freeing it to recognize and attack cancer cells.” In other words, it “unmasks” cancer cells making it easier for the immune system to detect and fight them.

The Road Ahead: Now, the trial needs to be replicated with more patients over a longer term to see if dostarlimab proves to be a cure. However, these results are certainly promising and a shining beacon of hope for cancer patients worldwide.

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