Original story aired May 27, 2011
Doctors and researchers at Clearview Cancer Institute in Huntsville saw something Thursday morning they’d never seen in their careers. It’s a clinical trial that went so well, some might say it borders on miraculous.
The trial involved patient Tommy Lamb, who was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, or CLL, in December of 2007. It’s a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It wasn’t until the last couple of months that the disease started taking a toll, with Lamb experiencing fatigue, night sweats, and enlarged lymph nodes. According to Lamb, “I was ready for treatment, because I was swollen so bad in my neck that it was almost like someone had their hands around my neck all the time.”
Lamb signed up to be part of a clinical trial with a drug known only as GA101. He had no idea that he was the first person in the world to be tested with this drug as a first therapy. He left Wednesday’s therapy feeling emotionally, physically and mentally drained. However, something changed.
“I slept well and got up and felt like an entirely new person,” said Lamb. “I looked in the mirror and I could not believe the difference.”
Lamb was so surprised by the dramatic results he took a picture and emailed it to the doctors and researchers at Clearview Cancer Institute. They couldn't believe what they were seeing, either. Lamb's oncologist, Dr. Jeremy Hon told us, "It is an exciting day, because in my career as an oncologist for 26 years in Huntsville, I have not seen this phenomenon."
Dr. Hon says Lamb's lymph nodes were 50 percent smaller in less than 24 hours.
Emily Pauli, Ph.D. is the Director of Research at Clearview and was equally surprised by the results.
"This is the reason we do cancer research, for celebrating these moments. We get excited over a 10 percent response, a 15 percent response," said Dr. Pauli. "This is the first time we have seen a response like this, so quickly, in a patient."
Dr. Clint Kingsley is the principal investigator for the clinical trial. He says the way this drug works is as a targeted therapy.
"This actually targets some of the receptors or little flags that sit on a cell surface, and it basically marks the cancer cells for the immune system to come in and destroy," said Dr. Kingsley.
So are we getting too excited, too quickly over one patient's response? According to the doctors and researchers at Clearview, the answer is no.
"This might be the only person that has this good a response, but when this is the first person in the world who's had it front line and had a great response, we say the next person probably will too, and we just hope the next person does just as well or even better," said Dr. Kingsley. "What if he's the slow guy? This will be great!"
Dr. Hon stressed the importance of this research and clinical trials. He says the support of the community is essential to keep it going, so newer and better drugs will be available down the line.
"As a physician, the joy that brings to us, to see the response and hope and excitement in a patient, it is infectious, it will last for a long time, too," said Dr. Hon. "This is the type of response that makes us keep doing our hard work, and we don't see that every day, but know the value of this moment. This moment is hard to describe."
For Lamb, he says no matter what the result, it's all about passing it on and making a difference in someone else's life, even if he never meets them.
"We need to do more of that. We've become so self-centered sometimes that we don't stop to think that we're here for a much greater purpose, to be a positive influence on others," said Lamb.
Lamb has five more treatments to go. There will be more clinical trials all over the country before this drug can be approved.