Target Cancer

Target Cancer

Was PLX4032 a miracle cure for terminally ill melanoma patients? A 3-part series on the hopes and frustrations of clinical drug trials. (NYT)

Dr. Keith Flaherty is one of a growing number of oncologists who are pursuing targeted gene therapy to treat their patients. His work testing an experimental drug known as PLX4032 is documented in this three-part New York Times text and video series, which follows the progress of several patients with advanced melanoma, a skin cancer that is almost always fatal within a year if it is not caught before it spreads.

In this video, patients who had previously experienced dramatic remission, and whose tumors had shrunk or disappeared after taking high doses of PLX4032, had begun relapsing. Flaherty had the thankless task of informing them that the drug was a short-term reprieve, but not a cure, and the only option left was chemotherapy. The videos vividly depict the fine line patients and their families navigate between hope and pragmatism, along with the accompanying emotional highs and lows.

The impact of dashed hopes for the patients and their families after such promising initial results is seen in their candid and heartfelt reactions to the news. Some families remained in denial, others were resigned, but all were grateful for the extra 8 months on average of good health the drug had given them before the cancer made its final assault. Most of the subjects have died since the video was made.

Although PLX4032 was not the miracle drug Flaherty had hoped, scientists in the laboratory will use tumor samples from his patients to try and to understand why the drug had stopped working and refine the formula to treat a wider range of cancer cell mutations. Many believe there is potential for a cancer “cocktail” similar to what finally worked to stop the advance of AIDS.

CHANNEL: New York Times

Producer: Kassie Bracken
Reporters: Amy Harmon, Kassie Bracken


ARTICLES, 3-part series by Amy Harmon:

A Roller Coaster Chase for a Cure

After Long Fight, Drug Gives Sudden Reprieve

A Drug Trial Cycle: Recovery, Relapse, Reinvention

VIDEOS, 3-part series by Kassie Bracken & Amy Harmon:

A Patient, a Pioneer

Last Chances, First Responses

Uncharted Waters, Fragile Hopes