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Glen Melby is happy to discuss potential benefits of clinical trials with just about anyone, because he has experienced those benefits. Twice.
Melby was first diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in 2008. He began radiation and chemotherapy, and while treatments eliminated most evidence of the disease, he said side effects were nearly unbearable. A year later, the cancer was back.
It was then Dr. Walter Vogel, his oncologist at the Beloit Cancer Center, mentioned a possible new treatment option. Based on the results of an NSCLC clinical trial, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had just months prior fast-tracked the approval of a targeted drug therapy, Crizotinib, for patients whose tumors had a mutation in the ALK gene. Melby’s tumor was sequenced and found to be one of the roughly 4 percent of NSCLCs that are ALK+. He began taking Crizotonib almost immediately.
“You just don’t see oncologists be giddy, but after Glen’s first PET scan after he started the drug, Dr. Vogel was,” said Dianne Melby, Glen’s wife.
For nearly two years, Melby took Crizotonib, an oral drug that targets ALK-mutated cancer cells and therefore has fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy.
However, his cancer grew resistant to Crizotonib, and Vogel referred Melby to Dr. Anne Traynor at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Traynor offered him an option to enroll in a clinical trial to investigate a next-generation ALK-targeted therapy, Alectinib.
“After having such success with Crizotinib, stepping into this trial was a no-brainer for me,” Melby said.
He began the trial in February 2014. While his cancer is still detectable by scans, there has been no further advancement of the disease.
“This drug has been wonderful for me,” Melby said. “The fact that side effects are minimal, the fact that I go on with my life, I go to Florida to see my grandkids. It’s been over seven years since I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and I’m still here.”
Traynor noted future patients would benefit from Melby’s participation in the Alectinib trial, just as he had benefitted from those who had enrolled in the Crozotinib trial.
“Without brave patients like Glen enrolling in trials, cancer science cannot move forward,” Traynor said.