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lung cancer patient, Dennis Campbell gardening
At the age of 89, Dennis Campbell is participating in an immunotherapy clinical trial for advanced lung cancer.
May 20, 2022

Approaching 90 years old with thanks to a lung cancer clinical trial

In 2019, at the age of 86, Dennis Campbell was diagnosed with lung cancer and was referred to Hamilton Health Sciences’ (HHS) Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. As an otherwise healthy individual, he was able to have surgery to remove the affected portion of his lung.

At the time, it appeared that the cancer had been successfully removed. However, in October 2021, his lung cancer returned and had spread through the bloodstream to other areas. It was time for Campbell to consider his treatment options.

Dr. Rosalyn Juergens

Dr. Rosalyn Juergens

“It’s a common misconception that there aren’t many treatment options for someone with advanced stages of lung cancer,” says Dr. Rosalyn Juergens, Campbell’s oncologist at HHS who specializes in lung cancer. “That was the case in the 1980s, but definitely not now. I have many patients that respond well to immunotherapy and end up returning to their lives cancer free for multiple years.”

Campbell knew he didn’t want to go through the difficulties of chemotherapy and radiation, so when Juergens explained the option of immunotherapy he knew that was the route for him. Immunotherapy drugs work with the immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells. What Campbell found even more appealing, was an immunotherapy clinical trial.

Trial treatment combines two drugs

The KEYVIBE-003 trial is looking at the combination of two immunotherapy drugs. One is a commonly used drug while the other is a new compound, which together have the potential to be more effective. This could improve the quality of life for more patients and also allow them to live longer.

What appealed to Campbell is that the drugs are combined in the same mixture so treatment sessions don’t require any additional time.

“It’s amazing he was able to have surgery at the age of 86, let alone qualify for a clinical trial at 89.”

“If the appointments are the same, I may as well increase my chances with the new drug,” says Campbell.

This worldwide study is fairly new with Juergens as one of the global leads.

“With standard immunotherapy for those with the right biomarker, a third of lung cancer patients are living cancer-free for five years without needing chemotherapy,” says Juergens. “This is very appealing to patients. We’re trying to make it possible for more people to live longer.”

The trial is blind and randomized, so patients don’t know if they’re getting the “standard of care” immunotherapy drug or the new combination drug. For Campbell, whichever one he’s getting is already working. His treatments will go for a minimum of two years and with only six months in, there are fewer cancer cells in his system and a suspected tumour has shrunk.

“It’s exciting to be able to bring this trial to our community and have patients like Dennis responding so well,” says Juergens.

Dennis and Marilyn Campbell

Dennis Campbell’s wife, Marilyn has been at his side through every step of his cancer journey.

Making a difference for others

The thing that makes Campbell unique is his age. And now at 89 years old, he’s not only continuing to fight his cancer, but helping others as well.

“It’s amazing he was able to have surgery at the age of 86, let alone qualify for a clinical trial at 89,” says Juergens. “Dennis is proof age is just a number.”

“I’m looking forward to my 90th birthday in October!”

The mean age of people with lung cancer is 70 and for clinical trials, the mean age is even lower. To have people older than the mean age in a trial helps doctors gauge if that treatment may be a good option for their older patients.

“The more diverse the population is in a clinical trial the better, and that includes age,” says Juergens. “People are living longer and we want to be able to provide treatment options for them, just as we would for someone who’s in their 60s and 70s. We won’t know if the body responds differently for someone in their 80s and 90s unless they’re part of the trial.”

Campbell is thrilled the treatment is working and he’s able to keep living his life with his biggest supporter, his wife Marilyn. His only side effect so far is some dry, itchy skin, otherwise he’s feeling good.

“I’m looking forward to my 90th birthday in October!”

May 20 has been identified as International Clinical Trials Day by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals and is celebrated around the world to raise awareness of the importance of clinical trials.