February 21, 2024

Gary helps write medical history with prostate cancer clinical trial

Gary Davey sitting in an exam room with his oncology providers
Gary Davey with Dr. Joshua Lang, right, and Jane Straus, an oncology research nurse, left.

Gary Davey had no reason to worry in February 2010 when he had a routine physical and blood test to qualify for health insurance through his wife’s new job.

So when his coverage was denied, Davey, then 54, was very surprised. A test of his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels had raised concern, and after following up with his general practitioner, Davey was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He had not experienced any of the usual signs of the disease, which can include urinary problems and pain or stiffness in the back, hips or legs.

“He said, ‘You won’t make Christmas, Gary’” Davey said of the initial prognosis from his doctor. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll see about that.’”

Now, 14 years later, Davey feels blessed to have an undetectable PSA and no signs of cancer after clinical trial treatments at UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center.

In January 2020, Davey, of Dixon, Ill., was among the patients in a phase I trial testing a combination of niraparib, a PARP inhibitor, and abiraterone, a hormone therapy, as a precision treatment for prostate cancer patients who have a BRCA2 gene mutation. This hereditary condition increases the risk of developing certain cancers in both men and women.

“This drug combination is now FDA approved, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for Gary and other patients being part of that phase I trial,” said Dr. Joshua Lang, a physician-scientist and Associate Director of Translational Research at Carbone Cancer Center. “Gary’s contribution to research means that thousands of other men will be able to be treated more effectively, just the way Gary has.”

Shortly after his diagnosis in 2010, Davey came to the Carbone Cancer Center for a total radical prostatectomy surgery, which removes the prostate gland and surrounding lymph nodes. When his PSA began to rise again about six months later, he went through radiation treatments. After his cancer continued to progress, he began clinical trials.

Faced with a difficult prognosis, Davey chose to look into every potential option and kept his spirits up with determination, faith and humor.

“I was never down on myself, that probably helped,” Davey said. I’ve never ever felt like giving up. That’s just not in me. It’s not as if I denied it, but it wasn’t consuming me. It was, this is what needs to be done, keep yourself fit, listen to Josh … and I’m still here.”

Lang, who has been Davey’s medical oncologist since 2015, said Davey would see some improvement with new treatments, but eventually his cancer developed a resistance, and they would have to try another option. This is common for patients with metastatic disease, and because Davey has a BRCA2 mutation his cancer has been more aggressive and developed that resistance more quickly.

When Davey started the niraparib and abiraterone clinical trial in January 2020, they saw a dramatic improvement right away. Lang said Davey’s PSA levels dropped by 90% after the first month and a half, and eventually his PSA level became undetectable and his lesions disappeared.

“It is the absolute best feeling in the world,” Lang said of Davey’s response to the treatment. “I mean, this is why we do the research, to develop new therapies for patients who are in need, and when we can see these kinds of very rapid responses, it’s amazing.”

Davey is grateful to Lang and the staff he meets with monthly for his treatments, and he enjoys joking with them and hearing what’s new in their lives. After years of seeing each other so often, Davey shares a bond with his team.

Davey continues to receive the combination treatment each month, providing more long-term data on its effects. He also maintains a healthy diet and exercise routine to keep himself fit and counteract the loss of muscle mass that can come with taking hormone therapy.

He’s happy to feel good and enjoy time with his family.

“As Dr. Lang says, 'You know, Gary, we’re writing medical history every day that you’re surviving,’” Davey said. “And it’s like, wow, you’re right.”