By the time Joseph Rick considered going on a clinical trial, he had already bought a grave. Thirty-two weeks of chemotherapy and nine general anesthesia surgeries to remove parts of his colon, stomach, liver, lung, and pancreas had all failed to stop the encroaching melanoma. The 40-year-old psychologist-in-training weighed just 90 pounds, down from 210, and was ready for hospice.
At the recommendation of a visiting nurse, he decided to contact Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D., at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, who was conducting a clinical trial of a new immunotherapy drug called tremelimumab. Tremelimumab, developed by Pfizer/MedImmune, falls into a class of drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs bind to and block molecules on T cells that serve as “brakes”—in this case, a molecule called CTLA-4. By “taking the brakes off” T cells, tremelimumab enables a more powerful immune response against cancer.
The Answer to Cancer (A2C) spoke to Joseph about his experience with immunotherapy and the stranger who changed his fate.