BUFFALO, N.Y. – Naturally, the medical world and the science world are very excited about a new lung vaccine called CimaVax.
After all, new technology and new drugs are the payoff of their hard work.
But the people who have been directly affected by cancer through diagnoses and through loss are excited in a different kind of way.
For Buffalo native Andrew Ray, the upcoming clinical trial gives him hope.
It was too late when doctors figured out what was wrong with his relatively young sister.
"She was coughing, she was sick, but you never think it's going to be lung cancer, and unfortunately, that's what it was,” Ray said.
Ray's sister Stacy was just 38 years old when she died from lung cancer.
Losing Stacy inspired Ray to try and keep up with treatment advancements, so the news of CimaVax was thrilling.
“I hate the fact every day that I lost her,” he said. “But you think, if you could save somebody else, it makes a difference and it make you feel better about it.”
Dr. Kelvin Lee of Roswell Park Cancer Institute was one of the doctors who traveled to Cuba to learn about and advocate for bringing CimaVax here.
He said cancer has been his focus since medical school, when a cancer patient he worked with delivered a baby, fought lymphoma for five years, and eventually died.
"She thanked all of us for all of our hard work, and my thought was, why can't we do better? Why can't we do better than this?” Dr. Lee said.
Lee found that answer in Cuba. He said the philosophy there is to be able to treat cancer like a chronic disease: Not necessarily cure it, but rather have control over it.
CimaVax slows or even stops cancer growth to the point where results in Cuba show lung cancer can be treated and controlled.
"If you have high blood pressure, or you have diabetes, we never cure you of your blood pressure or diabetes,” Dr. Lee said as an example. “But if you take your medication every day, keep your diabetes under control, you can live a perfectly normal life.”
"And that's a big thing, that quality of life,” Ray said. “When my sister went through treatments, it just knocked her right out. And to think that there could be a drug that would allow her to be more active and maybe have a better quality of life through those years would have been amazing.”
The clinical trial starting soon is for those with advanced lung cancer, but the promising research shows that, if successful, the drug could act as a true vaccine. It could be something that lifelong smokers could take advantage of, or those with a family history of lung cancer, and CimaVax could eventually serve to prevent lung cancer and not just control it.
That would allow someone like Andrew Ray’s sister Stacy, who loved sports, to enjoy more years of attending more games.