A Patient View of a Phase I Immunotherapy Clinical Trial

A Patient View of a Phase I Immunotherapy Clinical Trial

02.01.12 | By

I want to recommend an interesting piece in Salon. Author Mary Elizabeth Williams writes about her participation in a Phase I immunotherapy clinical trial for a Stage 4 melanoma. It is an eyes-open and moving account of her condition, hopes and fears as she recounts her participation in the trial and the first, preliminary results.

[SPOILER ALERT] Upon learning of some significant if preliminary improvement in her condition, Williams takes a realistic view of her circumstances:

"This isn't a happy ending. People with Stage 4 cancer don't really get those. This isn't even an ending. I'm still only halfway through a trial that is kicking my ass. After I complete it in March, I will be on maintenance treatment every three months for the next two years. I will have skin checks and MRIs and scans for the rest of my life. I will live with the reality that melanoma, as I have already learned firsthand, makes more comebacks than Cher. And nobody really knows for sure what the long-term effects of my treatment are, because nobody's ever done this particular course before. I'm hoping they include super strength and sexual charisma, but liver damage seems likelier."

Williams, of course, doesn't know how her story will end. None of us do. Biopharmaceutical research companies, government, academic researchers and the public have been focusing huge resources into the search for innovative cancer cures and treatments for over fifty years now [as an aside, I highly recommend "The Emperor of All Maladies," a biography of cancer, by cancer researcher Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee - a fascinating tour through the last 50 years of the battle against cancer]. While some significant and exciting progress has been made in the "war on cancer," we still have a long way to go. There is still so much to learn and understand. Science and research advances are giving us new ways to approach the challenge - such as the immunotherapy that Ms. Williams is undergoing. But the scientific challenges remain great and, understandably, from the perspective of those fighting cancer, there is great desire and hope for faster, more certain progress.

Importantly, what Williams conveys so well is both the uncertainty that patients confront as participants in clinical trials as well as how clinical trials, even failures, can lead us to answers and possible new approaches. It isn't an easy or straight path, but it is important to understand how it works and a patient perspective on it all is especially welcome.

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