Manchester drug trial leaves man cancer free

Could this make cancer treatment easier? (Photographer: NEC Corporation of America).

by Lorena Stancu

The tough battle with the frightening disease was won by 60-year-old Bob Berry from Stockport, Manchester, after taking part in a clinical trial testing a combination of drugs which completely destroyed any traces of the tumour.

Bob was diagnosed three years ago with lung cancer, and although he underwent surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, these were not efficient and the doctors predicted he would only have less than two years to live, since the disease had already spread in his body. As a last resort, he was referred to the trial in the NHS experimental cancer centre The Christie, where a new drug was to be tested. The new treatment was applied to only 12 people worldwide, 3 of which being treated at the Christie institute, but out of these only Bob showed such significant reaction. Although not much information has been released about the substance itself, it is known that it functions in combination with immunotherapy, a relatively new treatment which helps the body to naturally destroy cancer cells.

Medically, cancer cells are caused by cancerous factors of various sources, from genetics to pollution or smoking, yet there remains a degree of uncertainty in the medical arena over its causes and why it affects certain people. Tumours form because the body’s immune system fails to identify and attack these destructive cells. Therefore, the new drugs experimented in this particular research are designed to firstly kill the cancer cells, and then aid the body’s own defence system to produce the antibodies that would target the abnormal proteins.

Successfully responding to the treatment, Bob’s latest results indicate no traces of the disease. Although these results are promising, the doctors are keeping Bob under observation, and are cautious in generalising the success story, given the variety in the forms of cancer and the complexities of our own human bodies. Professor Hughes, who is chain in experimental cancer at the Christie centre, says that “only about one in five people with immunotherapy get the response akin to Bob’s”. Cancer Research Organisation reports there are around 250, 000 patients/ year taking part in clinical trials, but the process of testing these new substances is lengthy and researchers estimate that from a first-man test to releasing the drug on the market there can pass up to seven years if the results are positive throughout.

Science is making remarkable steps in the fight with the disease, both the prevention and the survival rate being on the rise, and new medicines being tested every day. Bob’s case brings happiness to himself and his family, as well as bringing hope to those fighting the same battle against cancer. Taking part in drug tests not only can get someone access to medicines that are not otherwise available, but can also make a great contribution to the world of science; on the other hand, risks and side effects must also be carefully considered. In spite of these, Bob is whole-heartedly encouraging people suffering from cancer to embrace medical innovations.