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New hope in the fight against prostate cancer: ‘We can win this war’

Alan Held’s scan showed more than 100 metastases.

“They were literally speckled throughout my body, in my bones,” says the 64-year-old sales manager. Doctors told him he had stage-four prostate cancer and that it had spread. They started hormone therapy and chemotherapy tablets. It was September 2018.

Seven months into treatment and Held’s cancer was still in his bones. His oldest son, Josh, did some research and found that there was another option, a promising treatment for prostate cancer called “theranostics.” Only problem was it was in Germany. His dad would have to fly there from his Vacaville home to get it.

Luckily for Held his son is a successful businessman. Josh Held, who lives in Lake Arrowhead, picked up the tab.

Held and his wife Linda landed in Frankfurt in September 2019 and drove two hours to Center Clinic in a town called Bad Berka.

The following day doctors there put an IV in his arm for 30 minutes, sending molecular-targeted liquid radiation on a search-and-destroy mission.  A follow up scan showed that 80 percent of the metastases had vanished.

“It was very emotional,” Held says.

He returned to Germany several months later in December 2019 for a second treatment, which wiped out more tumors. A few months after that he flew to Germany for a third treatment.

“It just kept getting better,” Held says. “It just kept erasing the cancer.”

Today, nearly two years later, Held has only three small dormant spots in his body. He thanks God, and the clinic and Dr. Frankis Almaguel.

Almaguel is the Director of Molecular Imaging and Therapeutics Research at Loma Linda University Cancer Center. He was there at the Center Clinic in Germany when Held arrived.

Patient Alan Held, left, and Dr. Frankis Almaguel of the Loma Linda University Cancer Center pose together at a clinic in Germany where Held received theranostics treatment for prostate cancer. (Courtesy of Alan Held)

“He walked up to me and said, ‘Are you Alan from California? I’m Frankis from Loma Linda. I’m on this ride with you, my brother.’”

Almaguel explained that he had been working to bring theranostics to the Loma Linda Cancer Center.

In fact he had some Loma Linda patients who were flying to Germany for treatment, which is why he was there.

“There’s a lot of emotion when you roll though something like this,” Held says. “Frankis has been an ally. He’s been a lot of support in more ways than one. I’m a believer and he even prayed with me before the first treatment. What a wonderful experience it was.”

According to Almaguel, thousands of men have successfully been treated with theranostics in Germany over the past decade.

He believes the FDA is close to approving theranostics for use in the United States for prostate cancer patients. Global clinical trials are wrapping up.

“We’re really close,” he says. “The results are really clear. The FDA is going to have a lot of pressure if they don’t approve this.”

So how does it work?

Dr. Frankis Almaguel, an oncologist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center, is leading a clinical trial into a new theranostics treatment that has caused dramatic improvement for patients with prostate cancer. (Courtesy of Loma Linda University)

Theranostics is a mash up of the words therapeutics and diagnostics.

First comes the diagnosis.

A small prostate specific cancer marker molecule is labeled with a diagnostic radio isotope and injected into the patient. Like little drones, they move through the body, seeking out tumor receptors and binding to them, lighting them up so that when doctors scan the patient, they can see where the cancer is.

“Then we change the radio isotope from diagnostic to therapeutic,” Almaguel says.

This time the the drones are carrying tiny grenades.

“They go only to cells that have cancer and detonate that cell,” Almaguel says. “It’s amazing technology.”

It’s also very different than current cancer treatments, which are largely trial and error.

“We give a patient chemo and see in three months if it’s working,” Almaguel says. “Elon Musk is going into space and we’re still playing the chance game in cancer.”

Also, chemo kills all cells, not just cancer cells.

“You don’t have to burn the whole forest down if you know what tree is causing the problem,” Almaguel says.

Dark areas on these scans of Alan Held’s body show the difference in the prevalence of cancer after theranostics treatment, left, as compared with before, right. (Courtesy of Alan Held)

Because it’s so precise, theranostics has few if any side effects. Held said he had none.

“It’s kind of a dream for cancer therapy,” Almaguel says.

Loma Linda already has a theranostics clinic set up. The cancer center is just waiting for FDA approval. Almaguel says he is hopeful they will be able to offer the treatment in-house by the the beginning of 2022.

In the meantime, Loma Linda is equipped to take patients for the diagnostic part (insurance often covers the imaging). Patients must still fly to Germany for the treatment.

Almaguel has worked with more than 100 prostate cancer patients since 2018, some in trials, others who were approved on a compassionate use basis (something the FDA allows for patients who have run out of options).

Held is one of his best success stories.

“He had hundreds of metastases, including a huge one in his spine. He was told he could do nothing else but walk, no high-risk impact. Eight months after this therapy he was back skiing at Lake Tahoe.”

Almaguel says he has seen many others like Held who responded brilliantly. While some patients have needed only one round of therapy, others require up to a dozen or so.

“I think Alan is going to die of something else, not prostate cancer,” Almaguel says.

Held, who was told he had 3-5 years to live by the first doctors who diagnosed him (prostate cancer is the No. 2 cancer killer for men), agrees.

“Like Frankis said, I’ll die of something else. I’m feeling great right now. I feel this should be here in the U.S.”

Almaguel, whose specialties are nuclear medicine and radiation oncology, says theranostics is one more weapon in the cancer-fighting arsenal.

“We need different guns to kill the same disease,” he says. “So that if the front door is closed we have a side door and if that is closed we have a window.”

He is currently developing molecules at the Loma Linda clinic that he hopes in the future can be sent in to find and treat breast cancer and glioblastomas, currently a death-sentence brain cancer.

“This is exciting. It’s very exciting.” he says. “We can win this war.”


Source: Orange County Register

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