We’ve all lost someone we know to cancer, some of us have had cancer ourselves, but how many people do you know who’ve been saved by a cutting edge, clinical trial? Thanks to a new drug combination clinical trial for metastatic melanoma—funded in part by Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)—Karen Taphorn is living her life, cancer free.
When Karen volunteered for a clinical trial, her friends told her she’d be a guinea pig, but this clinical trial may have saved her life.
Simply put, metastatic cancer, sometimes referred to as metastasis, means the cancer has spread from the primary site—where it first started—to another part of the body. Because the cells that spread are usually cells that survived initial treatments, patient prognosis is usually not good. At best, for many metastatic cancers, a new course of treatment will hopefully prolong a person’s life. When one drug protocol stops working, and the cancer shows signs of growing again, many patients are given another protocol until their doctors run out of options. In Karen Taphorn’s case, by mid-2013, she’d already had two surgeries for her melanoma when a scan revealed her cancer had returned with a vengeance.
Tests revealed 24 tumors in Karen’s lungs. Standard chemotherapy treatments available to Karen were limited and not very effective. Because the five-year survival rate for metastatic melanoma was about 10 to 15 percent, Karen jumped at a chance to participate in a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City.
Karen’s doctors at MSKCC were evaluating a new treatment, a combination of the immunotherapy drugs ipilumumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab (Opdivo). According to Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at MSKCC who treated Karen, immunotherapy uses the patient’s own immune system to treat the cancer. The MSKCC clinical trial was based in part on work done by the Stand Up To Cancer-Cancer Research Institute Immunology Dream Team. Dr. Wolchok was a principal investigator in exploring drugs that “release the brakes” on the body’s immune system so it can attack the cancer.
Once a week for three months, Karen Taphorn made the two-hour trip from the Hudson River Valley to New York City for infusions, then every two weeks. Her only side effect was an itchy rash that felt like poison ivy.
The drugs triggered a dramatic response from her immune system. In three months, the tumors in her lungs shrank significantly. In less than a year, they were gone. For another year, Karen participated in the trial. She still gets scans every six months to watch for signs of recurrence. Today Karen says she feels fabulous, and she’s getting on with her life.
As a result of the data from the clinical trial Karen participated in, the Opdivo-Yervoy combination has obtained accelerated approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for a type of advanced melanoma. The combination was also approved for countries in the European Union. Because of SU2C, Karen Taphorn’s clinical trial, and others, is making big advances in the treatment of cancer.
Stand Up To Cancer is one of the most powerful and important catalysts we have in the fight against cancer. One hundred percent of money raised from the public raises goes to support SU2C research itself. SU2C is also breaking the mold in another extraordinary way. Instead of competing for the same research dollars and working in secret, by themselves, SU2C is bringing the best researchers in the world together to collaborate.
If you’re regular readers then you know 12 years ago, I had 10 breast cancer surgeries and eight rounds of chemo. My former site, BreastCancerSisterhood.com gave me the opportunity to meet physicians, research scientists and leaders of the biggest cancer nonprofits. In my opinion, no other organization is in the same league as Stand Up To Cancer and SU2C co-founder, Sherry Lansing. They have my utmost admiration.
Friday, September 9, 2016, Stand Up To Cancer will hold it’s fifth fund-raising telecast. I hope you’ll make a tax deductible donation. Please give what you can to SU2C. Researchers are doing their part. We must do ours. If you’re interested in reading my interview with Sherry Lansing, click here.