Five years, local attorney Henry Grun had his will ready to be executed at the request of his first oncologist, who warned him that his kidney cancer was so aggressive he had only six months to live.

Not only has he survived a round chemotherapy, but is now in his second go as a test patient in a clinical trial for an old malaria drug sold under the name of Plaquenil.

The trial began in 2008 at the CTRC at the UT Health Science Center under the care of Dr. John Sarantopoulous, his second oncologist.  

"We've been able to control his cancer for over two and a half years now, which is quite remarkable for us,” he said of Grun.

The lead investigator, Dr. Deva Mahalingham, who is also an oncologist at CTRC, initiated the study, hoping that when combined with traditional chemo drugs, Plaquenil will help kill more cancer cells.

"This is a cheap drug. It costs a couple of dollars for a one-month's supply and it's an antimalarial drug that's been around for 20 (or) 30 years," he said, describing another one of the advantages. "If it's successful in the Phase II study, hopefully we will do a multinational or multicenter study and one day, maybe there will be an antimalarial drug that will be approved for the treatment of kidney cancers."

Plaquenil has few side effects, so patients like Grun have been able to enjoy a good quality of life, even staying on the job.

He says his friends can’t believe he’s being treated with cancer.

“They can't believe it that there is nothing, no effects from it,” he said.

While many clinical drug studies have pharmaceutical company sponsors, this one was begun with a grant by Mahalingam.

He has begun Phase II of the study, which has expanded to more renal cell cancer patients, as well as colon cancer patients.

For a list of recent stories Ursula Pari has done, click here.