Cancer patient with months to live 'cured' by new drug

A pioneering new drug appears to have cured a British man with advanced skin cancer who had been given just months to live.

Doctors say they cannot be certain it was the treatment that led to the miraculous outcome for 64-year-old Warwick Steele from Ruislip in West London, but know of no other explanation.

Credit: Reuters

Warwick Steele, a television engineer, had undergone six months of treatment with pembrolizumab, which is injected into the bloodstream.

Doctors were astonished when after just three months his tumours had almost disappeared. Since then they have shown no sign of returning - and in fact have shrunk even further.

  • The drug, pembrolizumab, is the latest in a new generation of treatments that prevent cancers shielding themselves from the immune system
  • It was tested on melanoma - the most dangerous form of skin cancer - because the prospects for patients with advanced forms of this disease are so bleak
  • Just under 70% of the 411 patients taking part in the trial were still alive one year after starting on the treatment
  • Just under 70% of the 411 patients taking part in the trial were still alive one year after starting on the treatment

We cannot say for certain that he's been cured, but he is doing very well. He was aware that without an effective treatment his survival prospects were not good - maybe months.

Pembrolizumab looks like it has potential to be a paradigm shift for cancer therapy and is firmly helping to establish immunotherapy as one of the most exciting and promising treatment modalities in recent years.

This is one of several new drugs of this type being produced. What these early trials are showing is that they are fulfilling their promise ridiculously fast.

– Dr David Chao, Consultant, Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust
  • Pembrolizumab is a synthetic antibody that blocks a biological pathway called programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) which cancers activate to suppress the immune system
  • In healthy individuals, PD-1 is part of the process that applies a "brake" to the immune system and prevents it running out of control
  • Without the brake, there is a risk of a harmful inflammatory reaction - a potential serious side-effect of the new drugs
  • Pembrolizumab was generally "well tolerated" by the trial patients, according to Dr Chao, but he said responses varied widely between individuals

Each year, around 13,300 people in the UK are diagnosed with melanoma - more than a third of them aged under 55.

Advanced melanoma is a terrible disease with a poor prognosis. Pembrolizumab represents the latest advance in a whole raft of new treatments in advanced melanoma which have come through over the past few years.

The pembrolizumab results are really exciting and could represent a turning point for patients affected by advanced melanoma, giving them a greater chance of survival."