Scott Pelley follows patients in a clinical trial of a new cancer therapy with results promising enough to make the treatment a breakthrough

Scott Pelley follows patients in a clinical trial of a new cancer therapy with results promising enough to make the treatment a breakthrough

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The following is a script from "Breakthrough Status" which aired on May 15, 2016. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Denise Schrier Cetta and Michael Radutzky, producers.

A bold experiment to kill a vicious cancer has won breakthrough status from the Food and Drug Administration. Early tests at Duke University have been so successful the FDA will fast track this treatment to hundreds of patients while it's still being evaluated for final approval. The therapy is audacious. It uses the polio virus to attack a virulent brain cancer called glioblastoma - which is a death sentence of astonishing speed that leaves patients with only months to live. For two years, we've been following volunteers in the Duke clinical trial. We have witnessed nearly miraculous recoveries and unexpected defeats on a journey of discovery beyond the known frontiers of science.

Nancy Justice had been sentenced to a bleak prognosis when we met her in October 2014. At age 58, she had recurrent glioblastoma. It had come back after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Typically, she could expect to live seven months. The polio virus which mankind had fought to eradicate from the Earth, was the last chance she had in the world.

Nurse: ...feel a tiny tug there...

A half a teaspoon of polio flowed through a catheter inserted through Nancy's skull, directly into her tumor.

Nurse: OK. Ready to go?

Nancy Justice: I'm ready, bring it on.

Nurse: We're starting.

Dr. Annick Desjardins: If you feel anything, you let us know.

Nancy Justice: I will, definitely.

Her husband, Greg, constantly inflated a buoyant optimism to save him from the weight of the unknown. Her glioblastoma was diagnosed in the 21st year of Nancy and Greg's marriage -- just as the Georgia couple could make out the finish line for Zach and Luke at college. Her tumor can double in size every two weeks.

Scott Pelley: The tumor was aggressive--

Nancy Justice: Yes.

Scott Pelley: So you wanted an aggressive treatment--

Nancy Justice: Yes. Yes.

Scott Pelley: You're a medical explorer. Does it feel that way to you?

Nancy Justice: I'm taking it one day at a time. It sounds very lofty to say medical explorer. But you know throughout all of this if this gives other people hope I'm all for it.

Scott Pelley: Greg, you mentioned that Nancy was there for every important event in the boys' lives.

Greg Justice: Right.

Scott Pelley: But, there a lot of important events to come.

Nancy Justice: Exactly.

Scott Pelley: What do you hope to see?

Nancy Justice: So I am gonna see those boys walk across the stage at their college graduation. I am gonna see 'em get married. And I am gonna see the grandkids, preferably in that order. And I know it's, like, such a mom bucket list. But I'll love every minute of it.

This is Duke's polio team, Dr. Darell Bigner, director of the Tisch Brain Tumor Center, molecular biologist Matthias Gromeier and neuro-oncologists Dr. Henry Friedman and Dr. Annick Desjardins. As is typical, the university has licensed this technology to a new company to attract research dollars to the therapy and all the members of the team are investors.

Dr. Henry Friedman: Good to see that this is going well.

Dr. Friedman screens more than 1,000 glioblastoma patients a year who would like to be treated at Duke. He helps decide who meets the criteria for the polio trial.

Scott Pelley: I wonder of all the trials and all of the theories and all of the treatments that you have hoped for all of these years, how does this stack up?

Dr. Henry Friedman: This, to me, is the most promising therapy I've seen in my career, period.

The virus is the creation of, the obsession of Dr. Gromeier, who has been laboring over this for more than 25 years, the last 15 at Duke.

Scott Pelley: When you went to your colleagues and said, "I've got it. We'll use the polio virus to kill cancer." What did they say?

Dr. Matthias Gromeier: Well, I got a range of responses from, from crazy to you're lying, to all kinds of things. Most people just thought it was too dangerous.

Dr. Henry Friedman: I thought he was nuts. I mean I really thought that what he was using is a weapon that produces paralysis.

Other researchers are experimenting with cancer treatments using viruses including HIV, smallpox, and measles.

But polio was Dr. Gromeier's choice because, as luck would have it, it seeks out and attaches to a receptor that is found on the surface of the cells that make up nearly every kind of solid tumor. It's almost as if polio had evolved for the purpose.

Gromeier re-engineered the virus, removing a key genetic sequence. The virus can't survive this way so he repaired the damage with a harmless bit of cold virus. This new modified poliovirus can't cause paralysis or death because it can't reproduce in normal cells. But in cancer cells it does and in the process of replicating it releases toxins that poison the cell. At least that's what they'd observed in the laboratory. Eventually they had to try it in a human being.

It's a hell of a thing to be told that you have months to live when you're 20 years old. In 2011, Stephanie Lipscomb was a nursing student with headaches. A doctor told her she had this glioblastoma tumor the size of a tennis ball.

Full article here