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Victoria cancer centre puts patient on path to recovery with experimental immunotherapy research

A patient who’s been twice diagnosed with cancer says he’s on the path toward recovery with the help of immunotherapy research based out of a Victoria lab, marking its 20th anniversary.

“They did a PET scan and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this but you’re in remission,'” said Noel Schacter. “And I thought, holy mackerel that’s amazing.”

The retired sociologist is thinking back to his results from a clinical trial in the fall of 2020.

The senior says he had relapsed for a third time, following two diagnoses with forms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He had already been through three rounds of chemotherapy since his first diagnosis in 2006.

“I thought, 'I think this is it? I think this is all over,'” said Schacter. “Basically I was considering medical assistance in dying.”

Schacter says he was out of treatment options until his oncologist suggested an experimental immunotherapy trial that was running, in part, through Victoria’s Deeley Research Centre.

“It’s for patients who have leukemia or lymphoma,” said director Dr. Brad Nelson. “They donate a blood sample to us. We bring the cells into this lab and we do a gene engineering step where we put a gene into the T-cells that hardwires them to recognize their cancer.”

Schacter is among roughly 70 patients who’ve taken part so far.

“We then grow the T-cells in number and create an IV bag full of T-cells in this facility, which are sent out to our clinical sites in Vancouver or Ottawa and the T-cells are put back into the patient's bloodstream,” said Nelson.

The centre’s founding director says the trial will run up to 100 patients before getting analyzed on what to do with the product from there.

“It rendered me pretty dysfunctional,” said Schacter. “It took all my energy away… I could barely walk.”

Five weeks later, he says he regained his strength to walk and that’s when he was told his aggressive form of cancer had gone into remission.

Three years since then, that’s still the case.

“The odds of it working at that time, they thought it would be about 40 per cent,” said Schacter.

He still lives with ongoing side effects, such as low blood count and less energy. He also feels like his cognitive abilities have slowed.

“I’m still here,” he said. “Very pleased to be here.” Top Stories

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