Two years ago MesotheliomaHelp introduced our readers to Mavis Nye of England who had been fighting mesothelioma for four years. At that time we reported that Mavis was still looking for a silver bullet to free her of the burden of cancer. Today, we report of her success over the last two years and how, now, she might just have found that miracle weapon!
Since June 2009 when Mavis Nye first received the devastating diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, she vowed she would fight the cancer with every bit of her being. Now, six-and-a-half years after being diagnosed with the asbestos cancer, 74-year-old Mavis tells MesotheliomaHelp that on November 17 her doctors told her that although her tumors are still there, “there is no active mesothelioma in them.” Mavis is virtually free of the insidious cancer that has haunted her for years.
Although Mavis has fought long and hard for this result, she shares the news with guarded enthusiasm.
“I am not cured of mesothelioma, but I have no symptoms or progression of my cancer,” she says. “They cannot say for certain that it might not rear its ugly head again. If it does, I can go back on the drug and fight again. But it does make me so proud that I appear to be the first patient to achieve these results.”
However, Ray, Mavis’ husband who has been by her side for 55 years, does not hold back his enthusiasm. In his Dec. 22 Meso and Me blog entry he says, “This Christmas is extra special to me. It’s the first one in 6 years that I don’t live under the threat that Mavis might not see next Christmas. Our recent good news at the Marsden has lifted that long dark cloud. We will be celebrating with a renewed heart.“
The Clinical Trial That Erased the Mesothelioma
In May 2014, Mavis was admitted into the MK-3475 clinical trial at the Royal Marsden. Mavis was one of the first mesothelioma patients in the UK to participate in the multi-cancer trial, and she is the only remaining mesothelioma patient in the trial at Marsden. Every two weeks Mavis has traveled to the center to receive the immunotherapy drug from Merck, and she will continue to do so until May when the two-year trial concludes.
Mavis just completed her 40th treatment, and throughout the trial she has confounded the doctors with her “brilliant results.” Every third month during the trial she had a scan to assess her progress. From the start, the shrinkage was apparent, and eventually, the doctors did not even have to measure the before and after images to tell the tumors were disappearing.
The bad news is that continued use of the drug could lead to inflammation of the liver, lungs and/or kidneys. The doctors have warned Mavis to watch out for pain or difficulty in breathing. She said that although now she does get out of breath, her doctors said “it will be like when I first lost my breath, really difficult.”
The good news, as Mavis reported in her Nov. 17 blog, A Diary Of A Mesowarrior Living With Mesothelioma, is that her immune system will continue to recognize mesothelioma and will attack the cells if they try to regenerate. “So the effects last a long time and stops any tumours from progressing again,” says Mavis.
Expert Insight“Let’s stop talking about palliative care and telling a patient to go home and put their affairs in order. Let’s give more hope and then the patient will be more positive and fight this disease.”
Mavis and Ray both recognize the efforts and dedication of the nurses and physicians at Royal Marsden.
“Thank you to all the Doctors and Nurses that have made this one the best one for ages,” says Ray.
“The doctors and nurses are so proud of me at the Marsden, and I of them. It’s been a team effort,” adds Mavis.
The results for the Royal Marsden clinical trial, according to Mavis, will be released after completion of the trial in May 2016.
MK-3475 (Keytruda): How Does it Work and How Can I Get It?
Pembrolizumab (Keytruda or MK-3475) is a member of a new class of drugs called PD-1 inhibitors. The drug blocks the PD-L1 protein, thereby activating the immune system to attack tumors. According to Merck, the maker of the drug, Keytruda blocks the interaction between PD-1 (a protein on the surface of T-cells) and its ligands, PD-L1 and PD-L2 (found on the surface of cancer cells), enabling activation of T-cells and an immune response to cancer.
Mavis reports she was tested for PD-L1, but the doctors do not know if that was the reason for her success. “They are looking at my DNA,” she says, “but it does seem it is to do with my T Cells and whether these unlocked the immune system.”
Keytruda has been approved in the U.S. for the treatment of advanced lung cancer and melanoma. 91-year-old former president Jimmy Carter announced in December the drug helped him beat melanoma that had metastasized to his liver and brain. Now, cancer patients across the U.S. are clamoring for Keytruda. In the U.S., doctors can prescribe approved drugs for off-label use, and it may be used for non-melanoma cancers.
Keytruda is approved in Australia for melanoma, but it is not yet approved for mesothelioma. In Australia, drugs added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for a specific cancer allows patients access to the drug for a negligible amount. If not on the PBS, the drug can still be used, however, the cost can be exorbitant. Lou Williams, a 13-year mesothelioma survivor from Australia, who claims the drug has given her her life back, is petitioning to make the drug affordable for her fellow Australians.
Pembrolizumab was accepted under the UK’s new Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS) for the treatment of advanced melanoma in May. However, the UK does not allow physicians to deviate from the label of approved medications. It is still in trial for mesothelioma.
Talk to your doctor to find out if Keytruda is right for you.
Come back in the new year to read Part II, Mavis Nye: Advocate and Author.