“As a medical oncologist and researcher, I got to experience something rare: all patients in my study cohort responded well to a new therapy. I set up the NICHE study in 2017 to investigate whether immunotherapy could be beneficial to people with early stage colon cancer. What’s interesting about colon cancer, is that you can easily compare the two subtypes. Tumors of the first type, MSI, show many DNA replication errors. That’s why they respond well to immunotherapy. But we didn’t dare to dream that all the patients included in the cohort would respond as well as they did. Large tumors had nearly or entirely disappeared within four weeks, after two doses of immunotherapy before surgery. We published our first results in April 2020, and we have expanded the study to 100 patients to find out whether immunotherapy can prevent metastases in the long term. Our goal is to make immunotherapy a standard treatment for this patient group. But 25% of patients with the other type of colon cancer, MSS, also responded to the treatment, even though we expected that immunotherapy would not work on MSS tumors. In the lab, we are now trying to find out what it is that makes these tumors different, and we will soon start a new immunotherapy for MSS tumors as part of the NICHE study. 2022 will be an exciting year, as we will also be looking into the effects of immunotherapy on early stage rectal cancer, especially for patients who would prefer organ-sparing treatment. That is our goal: that immunotherapy is so effective that patients will no longer need surgery at all.”
Myriam Chalabi will defend her thesis on January 11.