We are in the midst of a revolution, the single greatest medical revolution that the world has ever seen. I am living proof.
It is the revolution of immunotherapy. Thanks to hero pioneers like 2018 Nobel laureates James Allison and Tasuku Honjo– who discovered mechanisms for inhibiting the “brakes” on our T-cells— and scientists like Gregory Carven, Hans van Eenennaam, and John Dulos– who invented Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) while working at Organon– we now have drugs that can “unleash” the innate power of our own immune system, allowing our T-killer cells to seek out and destroy the cancer in our body. And, although pharmaceutical companies are presently not very popular in the public consciousness, let us also give them credit, because credit is due. Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, for example, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in clinical trials, which has brought about life-saving results for many patients.
This new specialty, referred to as “immuno oncology”, is still in its relative infancy. Even at this early stage, however, immuno oncology is responsible for saving countless lives on a daily basis. Clinical trials for new drugs, or new uses for existing drugs like Keytruda and Opdivo, continue at an accelerated rate. A once skeptical, conservative medical community now stands in awe, marveling as much as we laymen at the demonstrated success of immune checkpoint inhibitors and other types of immunotherapies for many patients and cancers. For the first time, oncologists are using the word “cure”.
My hope, and my belief, is that sometime in the near future, immunotherapy will be the first line of treatment for head and neck cancer. Instead of having to infuse our bodies with poison, or bombard it with potentially damaging levels of radiation in order to “treat” the cancer (an interesting word), we will first, instead, be able to rely on the inherent defenses of our own immune system to deliver the kiss of death to any cancer within our body. This will also greatly reduce the incidence of debilitating side effects caused by chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery, which can have a devastating impact on the quality of life of cancer survivors.
In August of 2017 I had inoperable, chemotherapy and radiation therapy refractory Stage IV squamous cell cancer, with an ulcerating, fungating, and exophytic tumor emerging from my neck. My last and only hope for survival was that Keytruda (Pembrolizumab) would allow my own immune system to destroy the cancer.
I look forward to sharing my own experience and the remarkable, serendipitous journey that continues each day. My words are dedicated to every cancer patient past and present. Readers are encouraged to share their own experiences.
Los Angeles, California