Cancer patients may no longer need to experience the excruciating process of chemotherapy and its side effects. A new treatment that involves a simple injection has just been approved by the FDA, paving the way for a potentially groundbreaking anti-cancer therapy.
Medical experts say the new treatment can spark a landmark triumph in the way all cancers are being managed.
The drug is being developed by doctors and researchers from Baylor's Mary Crowley Cancer Center in Dallas, Texas.
How Does It Work?
First, doctors will extract cells from the existing tumor inside the patient's body. From those cells, they will then develop a formulation that works like a vaccine. Once the solution is injected into the patient, it will enhance the immune system's ability to keep track of the cancer. The cancer will also find the immune system hard to resist and thus reduce its destructive powers.
Changing Cancer From Acute To Chronic
The new treatment does not cure the cancer; it only controls it. In other words, it tames down an acute disease, makes it chronic and controls it from there on. Such strategy is said to be far less excruciating than chemotherapy.
"Change from an acute deadly disease to a chronic disease, probably we do the same for hypertension or diabetes," said Dr. Maurizio Ghisoli, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist.
Simple Injection Every Month
If the treatment is approved, patients prescribed this regimen will have to go to the clinic for a simple personalized vaccine every month.
The strategy is really like getting your regular dose of a flu shot. For the pioneering mind behind the regimen, Dr. John Neumunaitis, that is the dream. He said the treatment identifies the cancer where before it couldn't, and that's how flu shots really work.
"It changes the immune system," he said.
Promising Results of Clinical Trials
The treatment has changed the lives of patients who were put under clinical trial.
One example is the story of Carly Rutledge. She was diagnosed with a type of bone cancer called Ewings Sarcoma when she was 15 years old. She remembered being transported to the operating room one day, without being given much time to process the situation.
She underwent chemotherapy, which she described to be five days of intense hospital treatment. She then went to Baylor's Mary Crowley Cancer Center for the clinical trial of the new immunotherapy. Rutledge said it was the exact opposite of chemotherapy.
"I would fly in and out in one day and get a shot," she said.
Now, Rutledge is in college. She is in remission and does not experience any side effects. She is one of the reasons why the treatment has advanced in the FDA approval process.
Another patient whose life was changed by the new treatment is Grover Cummings. Neumunaitis said Cummings was diagnosed with cancer a few months before his daughter was about to get married. The patient wanted to walk her daughter down the aisle and wished that he could live at least until that moment. This story of Cummings happened 20 years ago. Now, he is still alive and cancer-free and enjoys the company of his 16-year-old granddaughter.
Patients Flying In
The news has already reached some parts of the world. People from across the globe have been flying in to Texas. For example, the Baron family from Italy brought their son, saying they could not find a promising treatment in Europe and that Dallas is quite unique in offering this therapy.
True enough, Ghisoli said Baylor is the only place in the world offering such breakthrough treatment.
The doctors at the medical center believe that this treatment can get past through all the stages of the FDA approval process. They anticipate the entire process to take four to five years. So at present, no matter how promising the treatment sounds, it is still considered under clinical trial.
Photo: Steven Depolo | Flickr