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Immunotherapy trials to treat cancer being done in Denver

DENVER -- Some pretty exciting clinical trials are giving cancer patients new hope.

Immunotherapy drugs have already been approved by the FDA for several different kinds of cancer including lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck.  But some Denver doctors are seeing promising results in new groups as well.

Denise Finley was part of a trial at Sarah Cannon Research Institute at Health One in Denver.  She was diagnosed with small bowel cancer in 2013.

After surgery and chemotherapy, scans showed she was clear.  But several months later, the cancer came back, and this time she had a horrible reaction to the chemo.

“I felt I am dying,” Finely said.

The Florida woman stopped the chemo, and flew to Colorado in a leap of faith, eventually ending up in an immunotherapy trial with Dr. Gerald Falchook at Sarah Cannon.

“We have very limited information about the effect of  immunotherapy for this type of cancer, so when she enrolled in this trial we did not know if it was going to help her or not,” Falchook said.

Immunotherapy is a new category of medication that is very different from chemotherapy.   It stimulates the immune system so it can see and fight cancer cells.

Finley flew to Colorado every two weeks for a year, just to get the treatment, and it worked.  Her tumor shrunk by 50 percent and basically started hybernating.

Plus, Finley experienced no nausea or other debilitating side effects.

“I feel like I felt before I was ever diagnosed with cancer,” Finley said.

This was good news for her and her doctor.

“This is pretty exciting.  This is probably the most exciting new category if drugs we’ve seen in several years,” Falchook said.

On average it takes about seven years to get a drug approved.  Finley hopes the research leads in that direction.

“There’s just too many people sick and dying from this disease,” she said.  “I’m just so happy to be alive.”