James Patient’s Cancer Leads to Approval

A Powell woman who was very sick in 2016 is cancer-free today thanks to lifesaving translational research and treatment by the Precision Cancer Medicine team at the OSUCCC – James.

After a year of standard treatments had failed for Rhonda Ball, who had a metastatic cancerous tumor of unknown origin that was protruding from her abdomen, researchers led by Sameek Roychowdhury, MD, PhD, went to work analyzing the DNA of her tumor.

When they found a biomarker for a genetic mutation called microsatellite instability (MSI-H), they enrolled her on a clinical trial that uses an immunotherapy drug called pembrozumab (marketed as Keytruda) to target this marker in other types of cancer, such as colorectal and uterine cancers. Within a few months, her tumor was gone.

“Rhonda was a participant in one of five clinical trials that helped get this drug approved by the FDA in the spring of 2017 for treating MSI-H-positive tumors in patients with any type of cancer—the first approval for treating a biomarker independent of tumor type,” Roychowdhury says, noting that his team is continuing to refine and improve treatment for these patients.

Wondering whether other patients with different types of cancer might also have MSI-H, the team developed an algorithm to identify the marker, analyzed more than 11,000 patients with cancer and devised the framework for a new diagnostic test for MSI-H in any type of cancer. The team also received a National Cancer Institute grant that will help researchers enhance detection of MSI biomarkers and aid in the development of novel therapies in clinical trials.

“Patients at the OSUCCC – James have access to the latest treatments that stem from cutting-edge research,” Roychowdhury says. “But research is expensive, and that’s why philanthropy is so important. Donor generosity supports lab-to-bedside studies that will help us save even more patients.”

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