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West London Man Seemingly 'Cured' Of Deadly Cancer

Tuesday 3rd June 2014

A man from west London who was given months to live has seemingly been cured of the most deadly form of skin cancer after taking a new drug.

Doctors say the first results in the trials of pembrolizumab are "jaw dropping" however say they cannot be certain it was the drug that led to the "miraculous" outcome for 64-year-old Warwick Steele from Ruislip.

The drug stops cancers disguising themselves from the immune system. It was tested on melanoma because the prospects for patients with advanced forms of this disease are so bleak.

Just under 70% of the 411 patients taking part in the trial were still alive one year after starting on the treatment.

Currently one-year survival rates for untreated patients diagnosed with advanced stage four melanoma are just 10% for men and 35% for women.

After just three months of treatment Mr Steele's tumours had almost disappeared and since then they have shown no sign of returning.

His consultant, Dr David Chao, from the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in London, said: "We cannot say for certain that he's been cured, but he is doing very well. He was aware that without an effective treatment his survival prospects were not good - maybe months.

"Pembrolizumab looks like it has potential to be a paradigm shift for cancer therapy and is firmly helping to establish immunotherapy as one of the most exciting and promising treatment modalities in recent years.

"This is one of several new drugs of this type being produced. What these early trials are showing is that they are fulfilling their promise ridiculously fast.

"Some of these results are really astonishing; almost jaw-dropping. And these drugs may be applicable to many different cancer types, including ones that are hard to treat, such as lung cancer.

"Cancers adapt to treatments, and when they come back they are harder to treat. Can we dream about actually curing some of our patients with very advanced cancer? Once we get the immune system attacking the cancer, can it act independently to keep the cancer under control? We don't have all the answers yet, but that's what we're looking at."

There are potential side-effects to Pembrolizumab including a harmful inflammatory reaction if the immune system runs out of contro however according to Dr Chao the drug has been generally "well tolerated" by the trial patents.

Pembrolizumab's manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme, is expected to apply for a European licence to market the drug within months.

Each year, around 13,300 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma - more than a third of them aged under 55.

Gillian Nuttall, founder of the charity Melanoma UK, said: "Advanced melanoma is a terrible disease with a poor prognosis. Pembrolizumab represents the latest advance in a whole raft of new treatments in advanced melanoma which have come through over the past few years.

"The pembrolizumab results are really exciting and could represent a turning point for patients affected by advanced melanoma, giving them a greater chance of survival."