Experimental drug cured rectal cancer miraculously

For the first time, a drug has proved to be effective against cancer.

So far, no patient has needed further treatment.

experimental drug cured rectal cancer
All the cancer patients in a small clinical trial entered remission after taking a drug that helps the immune system identify tumor cells. (Image credit: SCIEPRO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images)

In an unprecedented clinical trial, a dozen rectal cancer patients saw their tumors disappear after they received an experimental drug called dostarlimab, and none of the patients experienced significant side effects from the treatment. 

"I believe this is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer," in that this is the first cancer trial in which every patient entered remission, Dr. Luis Alberto Diaz, Jr., one of the trial leaders and a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center , told The New York Times.

It's too soon to say whether the patients will all remain in remission or if the drug will work for others with different types of rectal cancer; but the results are "cause for great optimism," an expert said. Details of the small trial, conducted at the MSK Cancer Center in New York City, were published Sunday (June 5) in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

The 12 trial participants all have a type of rectal cancer that tends to be resistant to chemotherapy and radiation and is known as "mismatch repair-deficient" rectal cancer. This type of cancer emerges when cells' mechanisms for repairing DNA falter. Normally, as cells make copies of their DNA, specific enzymes work to correct any typos that may crop in the genetic code. However, when the genes that code for these copy-editing enzymes are faulty, cells end up accumulating DNA typos that can lead to cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

 "These results are cause for great optimism," but without further research, dostarlimab cannot yet replace the standard, curative treatment for mismatch repair-deficient rectal cancer, Dr. Hanna Sanoff, an oncologist at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina, wrote in a commentary of the new trial published in NEJM.  

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