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Keith Taggart’s doctors offered him two treatment options. The first was chemotherapy, which his doctor said might extend his life by three or four weeks. The second was a clinical trial testing an experimental targeted therapy for patients with a tumor driven by a type of genetic mutation, or error, called an NTRK fusion. Genetic profiling of Taggart’s tumor had previously shown that this fusion was helping it to grow.
“I jumped at the chance to participate,” Taggart recalled. “Within hours, I had spoken to the clinical trial administrator and begun the process of enrolling.”
In November 2018, that drug, larotrectinib (Vitrakvi), became the first targeted therapy approved to treat patients with a tumor that has a specific genetic biomarker—in this case, the NTRK fusion—regardless of where the cancer started. The approval was made possible by Taggart and other patients enrolled in that clinical trial. Today, thanks to the research that created larotrectinib, Taggart’s cancer has been undetectable for about two years.
Taggart, now 63, said his quality of life is extraordinary. “I go to the gym and run two miles on the treadmill every day, and I haven’t missed a day’s work due to cancer-related illness since I started the clinical trial.”
Stories like his illustrate how researchers are bringing innovative cancer science to patients in the form of novel approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. These patients also bring to life encouraging statistics like this one: The number of cancer survivors in the U.S. increased from 15.5 million in 2016 to 16.9 million in 2019.