Saving Lives With Clinical Trials
About the Author: Hematologist oncologist Suresh Nair, MD, with LVPG Hematology Oncology–1240 Cedar Crest, is the medical director of the LVHN Cancer Institute. He became attracted to a career in cancer research following the death of his grandmother. The helpless feeling he experience during her battle with uterine cancer in the 1960s continues to drive him today as he works to discover new and innovative cancer treatments.
In the last five years, we’ve made more progress in the fight against cancer than we did in the previous 30 years. People are now surviving types of cancer that once were incurable, and their quality of life after treatment remains high. For a cancer researcher like me, these are exhilarating times. Coming to work each day at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) is an adventure because we’re discovering new ways to treat many types of cancer through clinical trials.
One of the most exciting clinical trials I’ve worked on studied the effectiveness of two medications in the treatment of advanced melanoma, a deadly form of cancer. One drug called ipilimumab (Yervoy) was already FDA-approved, and the other drug, nivolumab (Opdivo), was still under investigation. These medications, called immunotherapies, harness the power of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Because each drug affects the immune system’s cancer-fighting forces differently, we hoped they might work even better when used together in sequence.
For many patients participating in the clinical trial, the results were remarkable. One LVHN participant, Richard Dey of Washington Crossing, was given only months to live prior to the trial. However, six months into his treatments he was cancer-free, and his cancer has not returned. Read his story and watch his video. We have more than 20 patients at LVHN with similar success stories.
This trial was a major breakthrough. At the start of the trial, 90 percent of patients with stage 4 melanoma were dying within a year. Today, these medications are FDA-approved for combined use, and the melanoma survival rate has nearly doubled. The findings of our research were published in The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most renowned medical journals.
This is one of dozens of clinical trials being conducted at LVHN. That number will continue to increase due to our membership in the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Alliance.
What does all this mean for our community? It means people with cancer – like Richard Dey – have access to the latest treatments and medications at LVHN years before they receive FDA approval. It means people who receive the worst possible diagnosis still have hope that a clinical trial may provide the treatment they need. And it means people can defeat cancer and be given more time to spend with loved ones.
That’s why I’m excited to keep researching, learning and changing the way patients with cancer are treated. The people of our community deserve leading-edge, life-saving cancer care close to home. At LVHN, we’re providing it.
Learn about our membership in the MSK Cancer Alliance.