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What’s this news about a wonder drug curing cancer?

A trial on 18 colorectal cancer patients in the US found that cancer could be treated without chemotherapy or surgery. The world is sitting up and taking note of Dostarlimab, which has been called a wonder drug. Mint explains.

Is Dostarlimab actually very effective?

Dostarlimab is not a new drug but a combination of drugs that are already approved for use in immunotherapy. “There is a possibility that Dostarlimab may improve the outcome and survival rate in rectal cancer patients but to say it as a magic drug for cancer is completely going overboard,” said Dr Harit Chaturvedi, chairman, Max Institute of Cancer Care. Some drugs in this combination had shown positive results when used individually to treat specific cancers, said Dr. J.B. Sharma, oncologist at Action Cancer Hospital. Yet, doctors are waiting for the clinical trials to be extended to a larger group.

Will Indian patients get access to the drug?

At present, Indian doctors seem to be generally wary of prescribing Dostarlimab for their patients. Experts have termed as optimistic the findings of an ongoing trial—a group of rectal cancer patients showed no signs of a tumour after taking the drug for six months. None of the participants reported any severe side-effects either. Yet, doctors say they want to assess the duration of the response. “At this point of time, I will not give this drug to my patients. However, if the trial of the drug is started in India, I will explain this to my patients and ask them whether or not they wish to participate in such trials,” said Dr Chaturvedi.

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What do we know about the clinical trial?

A trial on 18 colorectal cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, US, found that cancer was treated in all the patients and could not be detected by physical examination, endoscopy, positron emission tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging. Thus, there is a thought that cancer can be treated without chemotherapy or surgery.

What is the rectal cancer burden?

According to Globocan 2020, the total number of cancer cases reported in India in 2020 were more than 1.3 million, including 65,358 colorectal cancer cases. Oncologists perform surgeries for all patients with solid tumor rectal cancer. There are two treatment protocols, depending upon the disease burden for rectal cancer. The first involves administering chemo radiation and following this up with surgery and then chemo therapy. The second involves chemo radiation followed by chemo therapy and finally surgery.

Is it too early to celebrate?

Cancer specialists said initial signals show how precision medicine is building the future but they need to test more patients from different areas and other types of cancers. “The combination of drugs was administered to a small number of patients and for a specific type of cancer,” Dr Sharma said. Dr Abhishek Shanker, associate professor, department of radiation oncology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna, said we should wait to know status of cure and the disease-free period.


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