Putting Cancer in Checkmate

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There are approximately 165 thousand new cases of prostate cancer each year, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. On average, 1 in 9 men will develop the disease during their lifetime.  Eighty-five-year-old Ralph Stuart is one of those men.

This is one of the most common types of cancer and it generally does not pose serious harm. The disease occurs in the prostate, a small walnut-shaped gland in men, forming small knots of abnormal cells that grow slowly. Found early, there are treatments that can provide a cure, yet even so it can be easily managed.

Initially, this was Stuart’s condition, but by 2011, the disease began to spread to his bones. Doctors tried several approaches, including hormone therapy, though nothing worked. It’s at this time that he met Dr. Patnaik who was enrolling patients in a cutting-edge clinical trial known as Checkmate 650.

Participants were given IV infusions with two drugs that boost the immune system: Ipilimumab and Nivolumab. They are part of a new generation of drugs that enhance the body’s own defense measures, namely T cells, a subtype of white blood cells.

Given separately, the drugs have little effect on patients with advanced prostate cancer, but when combined they can produce a very dramatic response. This is what happened in Stuart’s case, he went from a PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) level of over 500, to barely detectable.

The two drugs have already received approval from the FDA for advanced kidney cancer and metastatic lung cancer. The Checkmate 650 trial is still ongoing at several centers across the U.S.

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