Colorectal cancer: all patients in a clinical trial are in remission

Last update: June 2022


A small study of 12 patients with locally advanced colorectal cancer came as a surprise: all patients are in remission, without further treatment, more than two years after the trial.

“I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer”, said Dr. Luis A. Diaz, author of an article just published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And indeed, the results of this very small American study are enough to shake the world of health.

See also the article: Which cancers will be the deadliest in the future?

Immunotherapy as the one and only treatment

For 6 months, the scientists administered dostarlimab, an immunotherapy drug, every three weeks to 12 patients with a subset of rectal cancer. This drug, better known in Belgium and France as Jemperli, is a monoclonal antibody, or checkpoint inhibitor, usually prescribed for endometrial cancer. In a way, it acts like surrogate antibodies, which identify cancer cells and destroy them.
Patients expected to be prescribed one or more other traditional treatments such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery. Except that none of these treatments were necessary. To the great surprise of the researchers themselves, all the patients in the study who had completed their treatment with dostarlimab showed no signs of tumor on MRI, computed tomography, endoscopy, digital rectal examination and at the biopsy. “At the time of this report, no patient had received chemoradiotherapy or undergone surgery, and no cases of progression or recurrence had been reported during follow-up (range, 6 to 25 months). No grade 3 or higher adverse events were reported. » indicate the results of the study.

Furthermore, all the patients seem to have responded well to the treatment. However, if immunotherapy is generally better tolerated than other anti-cancer treatments with heavy side effects, a small proportion of patients may encounter more severe complications.

See also the article: Immunotherapy against cancer: what you need to know

Miracle drug?

It is better to avoid talking a little too quickly about a miracle anti-cancer drug, despite these encouraging and unprecedented results. First, longer patient follow-up is needed to assess the duration of treatment response, the study concludes. Then, the clinical trial only covers a small number of people, the study must also be replicated to be validated. And finally, the treated patients presented with a certain type of tumour. “It is also unclear whether the results of this small study conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will be generalizable to a larger population of patients with rectal cancer. » said Dr. Hanna Sanoff in an article in addition to the study. And if the doctor talks about “small but convincing study”she remains cautious: “These results give rise to great optimism, but such an approach cannot yet supplant our current curative therapeutic approach. »

See also the article: Local immunotherapy fights cancer in just 6 days

The New England Journal of Medicine (study)
The New England Journal of Medicine (Dr. Sanoff article)

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