The Immunotherapy Breakthrough

>> This is where they took the tumor out. They did miss the major muscle groups, but
the nerves, this area is pretty much numb. >> The first day, I didn’t exactly know the
details of it, it was just a regular fall day, and I was thinking everything is fine. And the doctor called me, and I went to his
office, and he said, got some bad news for you. It’s cancer. >> Reporter: 64 yearold Paul Hopkins was among
the most active 60somethings he knew, until he was diagnosed with a rare skin cancer called
Desmo plastic Melanoma. >> The statistics are pretty grim. The fiveyear survivor rate is not good at
all, I think 18%, something like that. >> Reporter: Paul underwent multiple surgeries
and expensive drug treatment, but the cancer kept coming back and spreading to other parts
in his body. >> Realizing that you’re facing death, I mean
in a very concrete way, it definitely changes your outlook on life. It was fall when this was happening, and the
leaves were dying, and I kind of had times of feeling like that, you know, like watching
the leaves die, and I was kind of going inward and feeling that same sense of preparing to
die in a way. >> Reporter: Out of options and losing hope,
Paul’s luck changed at last. >> Finally, with ObamaCare, I was able to
switch providers and went to Seattle cancer care alliance and the hutch. They were just going to start a program, it
was brand new, and I just happened to hit it at exactly the right moment. And Dr. Sylvia Lee was going to be hitting
it. >> Reporter: The program was an emerging trial
for a new cancer treatment known as immuno therapy. >> Immuno therapy is really different from
standard chemotherapy, radiation, some people are calling it a living treatment because
you’re using cells from patients’ bodies that are alive. >> Reporter: Immuno therapy uses the body’s
own immune system responses to counteract one of the world’s most deadly and cunning
diseases. >> For a long time, people didn’t think that
your immune system would be able to recognize your own cancer, because your immune system
is known to recognize things that don’t belong in your body, like bacteria, viruses. Cancer is something that developed from your
own body’s cells. And what we understand now is that because
your cancer develops certain mutations that don’t necessarily belong in your body, your
immune system is able to recognize those alterations and attack them. >> Reporter: One of the first modern researchers
to delve into these treatments is Dr. Stanley Rydell. >> These are now antibodies that would target
molecules on cancer cells. And that was sort of the first evidence that
you could use an immuno therapy and have a big effect on cancer. Our emphasis here has been more on Tcells. >> Reporter: When a body’s Tcells attack a
tumor, they’re often tricked or suppressed by the disease. Tcell therapy aids the cells and destroy the
tumor. In Paul Hopkins’ case, his tumors made him
a good candidate for a type of Tcell immuno therapy known as TILT. >> You’re taking the patient’s actual tumor
and then you’re going the Tcells out from that tumor, the idea that there are certain
Tcells or white blood cells that have already been drawn to the tumor, they’re trying to
attack the tumor and put them to sleep. So if you can just take that piece of tumor
into the laboratory and grow those actual cells that have already recognized the tumor,
select for the ones that are the most powerful, grow them out into the billions, and then
infuse them back into the patient, you’re taking advantage of the patient’s own Tcells
and their ability to recognize the cancer, and augment to that so it can eradicate the
cancer. >> Reporter: The super charged Tcells took
almost immediate effect. >> Within two weeks, I could almost feel a
tumor that I had under my chin disappearing, it was just going away. Within a month, it was down to a small little
ball. >> 12 weeks after, we couldn’t see any cancer
in his body. Now, he is walking again, he’s started to
take 30minute walks every day in the arboretum and green lake. And he’s already asking when he can go skiing
again, so he’s on his way to regaining his former life. >> Reporter: Remarkable stories like Paul’s
are emerging from the hutch and other research centers. But not every treatment ends in success. >> So far, it’s only working in a minority
of patients. The challenge is understanding why not every
patient responds and what we can do to increase these response rates. >> Reporter: In another lab at the hutch,
a team of technicians are taking bold new steps with the next generation of immuno therapies. >> Our focus has been actually to engineer
Tcells, to put in a response that can see the cancer. >> Reporter: This approach uses synthetic
receptors to program Tcells to recognize and go after specific cancers. But perhaps the most remarkable effect takes
place after the cells have begun their work. >> The Tcell will see the tumor and kill it,
but the Tcells will also then divide, so a patient can have several pounds of tumor,
and you can treat them with a tiny kernel of Tcells, a little pellet. Those Tcells will grow up in the patient and
continue to recognize the tumor until the tumor is gone. It’s evolving so quickly right now, and I
think that we still don’t fully understand how to bring all of these things together. But I think that it’s so exciting, because
I think the next decade is really going to allow us to do that. >> Reporter: For patients like Paul Hopkins,
these early successes are nothing short of life saving. >> If I had gotten this cancer five years
earlier, I would have had no hope, it would have really been virtually nothing I could
have done, and probably would have died within a few years. I feel like I got my life back is the amazing
thing. I mean I feel like it was slowly ebbing away,
and I was not going to be able to do what I wanted to do anymore. Now, I feel like there’s a chance I’m going
to be able to get back to everything I love. And it’s like a miracle as far as I’m concerned.

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