Clinical trials are showing promising results for melanoma patients | VIDEO

Positive results: Dr Rhys Thomas of New Lambton is participating in a clinical trial which is showing positive results for melanoma patients and could prove beneficial for other cancer treatments. Picture: Marina Neil.

Positive results: Dr Rhys Thomas of New Lambton is participating in a clinical trial which is showing positive results for melanoma patients and could prove beneficial for other cancer treatments. Picture: Marina Neil.

RHYS Thomas was given three months to live, but almost three years on he is alive and recovering well thanks to a medical breakthrough lauded as a “penicillin moment” for cancer treatment.

Since being diagnosed with melanoma in October 2013, the New Lambton father-of-three and anaesthetist has been participating in a clinical trial for a new class of cancer drugs that work through immunotherapy.

He will share his story at a public forum organised by the Newcastle Institute at Souths Leagues Club on Wednesday from 6pm.

Dr Thomas told the Newcastle Herald his diagnosis had “come out of the blue.” Apart from an unremarkable cough, he had not had any symptoms.

When he began feeling abdominal and flank pain he suspected early kidney stones, and decided to get it looked at. Scans and tests revealed he had melanoma, with several significant tumours scattered throughout his lungs, abdomen, and brain.

“The median survival for patients in my situation was about three-to-four months. So if 100 patients came in with what I presented with, within four months, 50 of them would be dead,” he said.

Dr Thomas had surgery and radiotherapy before beginning one of the clinical trials into melanoma.

He explained that the trial had three “arms” to it.

The control arm used the current drug used to treat melanoma, called Yervoy.

The second arm was a new drug called Opdivo, which he knew had shown even more promise but it was only available in clinical trials. And the third was a combination of the two drugs.

“There was a one-in-three chance I would end up on the Yervoy that I could have started earlier, but there was a two-in-three chance I’d get this new immunotherapy drug, which sounded quite promising,” he said.

The trial is ongoing, and Dr Thomas still does not know for sure which treatment he was given.

But his oncologist, family and friends are delighted by results that show his tumours are shrinking. Some had disappeared completely.

“Within four weeks there had been a reduction in the size of the tumours,” Dr Thomas said.

“My doctors and family were thrilled with that news, but I wasn’t quite as excited because I was still feeling terrible at that point.”

Throughout the process, Dr Thomas dropped from about 85 kilograms to 60. He has suffered skin and hair de-pigmentation, and some other side-effects. But he has no regrets and is happy to contribute “useful data” to the research.

“Hopefully these stories show there is progress happening,” he said.

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