I-TEAM: Doctors use personalized cancer treatments to treat patients


A local man is doing well instead of being on his death bed. His cancer is being conquered by a new approach to treatment.

Paul Edie spent more than three decades helping build Buicks in Flint. The 76-year-old is now retired.

He is a patient helping his doctor blaze a trail into a new type of cancer treatment. They are targeting cancer at the genetic level with personalized cancer treatment.

Edie received a section of his son's liver for a transplant. Now his son is also battling cancer.

"Wished I could take his place and him get to live a long life. It gets to me when I start talking about him," Edie said.

His son has melanoma, but with radically different treatments producing radically different results.

The I-Team discovered Edie's immunotherapy is part of an exciting and expanding branch of cancer treatment called personalized medicine. It uses a patient's unique biological strengths, abilities and characteristics - in this case, Edie's immune system - to fight his cancer in a way only his body can.

Different types of immunotherapy include injecting man-made proteins designed to help the system attack a very specific part of a cancer cell, certain drugs that help the system recognize and more effectively fight cancer, and vaccines that jump start and immune response against certain diseases.

All of the treatments are personalized for each person and each cancer type.

"Targeted therapy, personalized medicine that is being practiced in current day oncology," said Dr. Binu Malhotra, medical oncologist.

The battle against a particularly nasty form of leukemia called CML produced another personal attack called targeted therapy.

"We developed targeted therapy for CML. I think it was over 10 years ago and now it's treated with a pill as opposed to chemotherapy, transplant. So yes, it's being done in various types of cancer," Malhotra said.

If the patient's specific cancer-causing culprit can be identified at the genetic level, a specific drug can be developed to kill it.

"About 15 percent of lung cancers are driven by a mutation and they can be treated with a pill as opposed to chemotherapy," Malhotra said.

Treatments are more tolerable and patients are living longer. The response rates are up to 40 percent better than with chemo.

"I've had multiple patients just in the last six months where chemotherapy failed. We did genomic sequencing and we could find a targeted treatment for those patients," Malhotra said.

The process is expensive and rarely covered by insurance. For not it treats only a small minority of tumors with a specific mutation that can be identified and targeted.

"So the one big question is to identify the driver mutation and then the second step is to have the drug that can target the driver mutation. So it's a two step process," Malhotra said.

A process still far from the standard treatment for every cancer type.

Copyright 2016 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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