When Theresa (Terry) Rossiter, 67, was given the diagnosis of inoperable, metastatic lung cancer on November 11, 2009, her world ground to a halt. Rossiter knew that the likelihood of tumor shrinkage with available chemotherapy was a disappointing 30 percent, and her life expectancy was now measured in months. But she wasn’t willing to take the news without a fight.
Instead of “getting her affairs in order” like her physician had advised, Rossiter sought the opinion of her longtime friend and molecular biologist Alan Kapular, who had confronted an incurable malignancy 10 years earlier.
He told her of his experience with Rational Therapeutics in Long Beach, where he’d had a laboratory analysis done that tested his cancer against a number of chemotherapies to determine the most effective, “personalized” treatment options. “There wasn’t any question about it,” said Rossiter, “I wanted the best chance possible, and Rational Therapeutics had the ability to provide it.”
So, last December 1, Rossiter and her husband Richard traveled from Corvallis, Oregon, to meet with Dr. Robert Nagourney, medical director at Rational Therapeutics. A biopsy of her lung confirmed the diagnosis, but more importantly it provided the laboratory with the needed sample to test her tumor and identify a treatment. The chemosensitvity-resistant assay recognized one specific drug combination as the most effective at killing her cancer cells. “The combination identified, though widely used in Europe, is not in wide use in the United States,” said Nagourney. “In the lab, with the addition of an anti-angiogenic– blood vessel blocking agent– [which] further improved the potency of the combination, we were pretty sure we had a winner for Terry”
Indeed, this same mixture of drugs had been the subject of two highly positive international studies reported by Canadian investigators in recent years. Not taking any chances, Rossiter started therapy under the care of Nagourney. Within weeks, her tumor markers began falling, and the nagging back pain that she had endured for months disappeared. The only side effect she encountered was some fatigue.
Today, with four treatments completed, the CT/PET scans used to measure the cancer by X-ray have dramatically improved, and the tumor marker tests are approaching normal. The Rossiters will remain in Long Beach with family until Terry completes her sixth chemotherapy cycle and has the results of her final CT/PRT scans.
She is participating in a clinical trial at the Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Memorial, where Nagourney serves as principal investigator, testing this new “personalized “ approach to lung cancer therapy. “To date, we have doubled the response rate in this disease to 69 percent and have patients who are outliving average survival expectations by years,” Nagourney said.