What a breakthrough clinical trial means for the cancer community

Last week, a rectal cancer clinical trial made headlines around the world.

The trial was unprecedented because every patient enrolled in the trial saw their tumour shrink away to become undetectable. A 100% response rate like this is unheard of in cancer clinical trials.

There are, of course, important caveats to this news. The phase II trial only included 12 patients from a single cancer centre and followed them for a short period of time (between 6 months to 2 years). To know how widely applicable and long-lasting these results are, the researchers will need to test the drug in a larger, more diverse group of patients and follow them for a much longer period of time.

Nonetheless, these early results offer tremendous hope to people affected by rectal cancer because this treatment approach could potentially spare them from surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and help maintain their quality of life for much longer.

These results also highlight the promise of precision medicine to transform the future of cancer. The drug used in the trial, dostarlimab (Jemperli), targets a specific genetic vulnerability found in cancer cells. This means that it could work just as well against another cancer that has the same type of genetic weakness, regardless of where the cancer is in the body. In fact, the drug has already been approved to treat endometrial cancer and is being tested in clinical trials for other types of solid tumours.

Breakthroughs like this are only possible because of decades of cancer research uncovering the complex biology and genetics of cancers. That’s why the Canadian Cancer Society is committed to driving progress in cancer research and accelerating the translation of research discoveries into new approaches to take control of cancer.

Thanks to our donors, we are supporting talented and dedicated researchers across the country who are expanding our understanding of cancer and developing new tools to make precision medicine a reality for every person affected by cancer. To learn more about our research, please visit