Immunotherapy: Harnessing Your Body's Own Defenses
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TREVOR BIGGSYou feel sick. You know, you're nauseous. You lose your hair. You feel like you got hit by a truck. And then you start to get better, feel a little bit better, feel a little better. Then, boom, you get another round of chemo.
ROBIN ROBERTSImagine if treatments for cancers were no longer toxic and unbearable. What if we could harness our own immune system to win the battle against cancer? Well, that's not just something to dream about because, for some cancer patients, it's becoming a reality on a "Path to a Breakthrough."
Trevor Biggs was 26 and at the height of his life when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma, a severe and aggressive blood cancer.
TREVOR BIGGSI just did simple math and thought, let's just say I beat all the statistical odds and make it to 20 years. You're still dying at a very, very young age. That was really hard for me to wrap my head around.
ROBIN ROBERTSBut it seemed that Trevor was defying the odds. After multiple rounds of difficult and debilitating chemotherapy, Trevor appeared to be in remission.
TREVOR BIGGSWhen I got better the very first thing I said was, I'm going to live my life with my hair on fire. I'm going to start doing things I normally wouldn't do.
ROBIN ROBERTSSoon Trevor was feeling like he'd won not just a second chance at life but at love--
TREVOR BIGGSLove you.
ROBIN ROBERTS--when he met Sarah, the woman of his dreams and the partner he was waiting for.
TREVOR BIGGSI mean, we literally spent every single day together.
ROBIN ROBERTS: But as inseparable as they were, too soon and too quickly the joy and stability in Trevor's life was shattered. The cancer came back.
TREVOR BIGGSI remember sitting in our condo and going back and forth in my head-- you know, crying because it's just like I finally had met, you know, the woman of my dreams. Everything was really coming together. And yet here we are again at a crossroads where [WHOOSH] it could all go at any point.
SARAH BIGGSTo see Trevor so vulnerable and just breaking down and crying, and what am I going to do? And telling me that I should leave because, you know, we're not going to be able to have a future.
TREVOR BIGGSWhen I got sick, marriage and kids-- those possibilities, I felt like, kind of exited the table.
ROBIN ROBERTSThough Trevor was convinced Sarah should move on, she was determined more than ever to stay by his side.
SARAH BIGGSI had been looking for Trevor my whole life. I knew immediately that I would not leave.
ROBIN ROBERTSTrevor dreaded returning to the toxic therapies he had endured. But then he got word about a promising new cancer treatment in clinical trials, immunotherapy.
PHIL GREENBERGImmunotherapy is really, I think, a game changer in cancer therapies right now. The goal of immunotherapy is to harness the immune system to effectively recognize and eliminate cancer cells.
ROBIN ROBERTSFor nearly four decades, Dr. Phil Greenberg, part of a team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, has been pursuing an extraordinary new way of attacking cancers.
PHIL GREENBERGWhat we're trying to do is create cells that see the tumor as if it was a virus and just get rid of it.
ROBIN ROBERTSThe white blood cells known as T cells, which are responsible for destroying diseases in our bodies, can be reprogrammed with a new mission to seek and destroy cancer without harming healthy cells.
Tell us why this is such a potential game changer.
AREFA CASSOOBHOYIt's really incredible. They actually take T cells out of the patient's body. They alter them. They multiply them. And then they'll bring it back into the body through an IV infusion. Once these cells are in the body, they continue to replicate. And they spread through the body targeting cancer cells and fighting them.
ROBIN ROBERTSAnd it stays in the body?
AREFA CASSOOBHOYYes. It stays in the body.
It acts as a scout. So as cancer cells resurface, they're able to be attacked.
PHIL GREENBERGOnce you start engineering a T cell, you can change all kinds of things that it can do. You can make it much better. And it should have none or very limited side effects.
TREVOR BIGGS: When the physicians are presenting this to you, they're saying, yeah, so all the side effects that you felt before, you're not going to feel that. And you're going like, really? Like not even a little hair's going to fall out? No, nothing. In your mind you're hearing this. And it's almost like too good to be true.
ROBIN ROBERTSBut though it seemed unbelievable, Trevor's immunotherapy treatment went exactly as he would have hoped.
TREVOR BIGGSIt is amazing how they get done. You say, did I really just get a treatment that could potentially save my life and I don't feel any side effects? Nothing?
ROBIN ROBERTSTrevor says, after the treatment, he could feel his tumors melting away.
TREVOR BIGGSAfter I got the transfusion, you could see the tumor burden starting to decrease. And visually I could feel it. There is no more there. There's no more in legs, my arms.
ROBIN ROBERTSTrevor's experience is part of what some say could eventually be the silver bullet we've been looking for to cure cancer. And at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, results have been astounding with reported remission rates of up to 90% in certain blood cancers.
PHIL GREENBERGThese responses are really unprecedented. They're unprecedented in part because we're talking about people who come for therapies when they have nothing left. And this therapy, like many of those, will be much more effective when used earlier.
ROBIN ROBERTSWhich is why biotech companies are racing to make these blood cancer treatments, currently in clinical trials, approved and hopefully available to the public as soon as 2017.
PHIL GREENBERGThis is the tip of the iceberg. These therapies will be better. They will be more effective. They will be easier to deliver. So the future is really-- right now it seems unlimited.
ROBIN ROBERTSDr. Greenberg believes immunotherapy will be the driving force in treating a whole range of diseases and maybe, one day, making cancer a thing of the past. For now, multiple studies are underway across the country. And at the Hutch, they are actively pursuing treatments for other cancers such as lung, pancreatic, and ovarian.
As for Trevor, after finishing his immunotherapy treatment, he has been given the gift of life in many unexpected ways. Today, Trevor and Sarah have two beautiful children and, because of what they've been through, an enormous amount of gratitude.
TREVOR BIGGSYou think about the fact that the T cell therapy has given me the ability to start that family.
SARAH BIGGSMommy's turn?
We're just so blessed.
Thank you. I love you.
TREVOR BIGGSIt is as if this disease was never here. I mean, it really has allowed me to live my life free of worry and just go out there and live cancer free.