Checkmate for prostate cancer

CHICAGO – When prostate cancer is caught early, there are effective treatments that can provide a cure. 

If the cancer has spread, treatment becomes much tougher. 

A new trial is evaluating immunotherapy in patients with advanced cases of the disease. 

Ralph Stuart, 85, has been battling prostate cancer for the past nine years. 

At first, the cancer was slow-growing, but by 2011, his disease took a turn.

"At that time, it started to spread, spread to the bones," said Austine Stuart, Ralph's wife.

Ralph Stuart's doctors tried hormone treatment but his cancer kept spreading. That's when the Stuarts found an oncologiest, Dr. Akash Patnaik, who was enrolling patients in a cutting-edge clinical trial known as Checkmate 650.

"With the PSA elevating so much and nothing else seemed to work, we said this won't hurt," Austine Stuart said. 

Patients in the trial receive an IV infusion of ipilimumab and nivolumab, two drugs that boost the immune system.

"We are trying to enhance the ability of the good immune cells, the T-cells are able to enter the tumor and overcome this fortress of immunosuppression, Patnaik said." 

Patnaik said when given separately, the drugs have little effect on patients with advanced prostate cancer, but together, certain patients, like Ralph Stuart, do very well.

"He had a very dramatic response even after receiving the first cycle of treatment", Patnaik said.

At its highest, Ralph's PSA level, a measure of prostate cancer, was over 500. Right now, it's not detectable, the sign of a possible cure.

"There is a solution for a lot of people," Austine Stuart said.

The two drugs have already gained FDA approval for advanced kidney cancer and metastatic lung cancer.  

The Checkmate 650 trial is ongoing at five centers across the U.S.