A patient sees a new way to fight cancer first hand

Every life has an ending. Matt’s was coming far too soon. Battling stage IV lung cancer, he was, in his own words, “On my way out.”

A medical student from Poland, Ohio when diagnosed, Matt was fortunate to have access to some of the most progressive cancer treatments available. Yet no cancer drug’s effect on a tumor lasts forever. “Back then, I thought a lot about who I wanted to be my pallbearers, what hymns I wanted sung,” Matt said. “That’s something no twenty-four year-old should have to do.”

Little did Matt know that time was on his side. Not just in the five years ahead, but the five years preceding. During that time, a researcher named Ted was working on a treatment for a specific genetic mutation of lung cancer. Not unlike many researchers, Ted had lost a loved one—his mother—to the disease. “Battling cancer remains very personal to me,” he said, “I feel like the work I do can save lives.” His work led to a new medicine that was released for stage I clinical trials as Matt’s cancer was recurring for a third time.

Patients who have benefited from the medicine—including Matt, who is now 29—have another description for it: miracle.

With good reason, patients today find optimism that new medicines aimed at treating and fighting back cancer are within reach. There are more promising cancer medicines in the pipeline than at any time in history. At the same time, a lab-coat army of researchers is going to work each day staring down the odds, uncovering breakthrough treatments to improve, extend, and save patients’ lives.

Biopharmaceutical companies nearly doubled their research and development investment in personalized medicines over the past five years and expect to increase their investment by an additional third in the next five years.

In a Boston lab recently, one of those researchers met one of those patients. Matt showed Ted the medicine that had saved his life. “I’m in research,” Ted said, “so I had never seen the actual pills. So powerful to see them in the hands of someone they saved.”

“Just as powerful,” he said, “was hearing from Matt that he had virtually no side effects. It’s one thing to treat someone’s cancer, but another to hear that their quality of life was so good. To have both those things together … fantastic.”

Matt, now disease-free, has started a career as a researcher himself. And on Sunday mornings, sitting side-by-side with his wife in a pew, he can’t help but reflect. “When I sing a hymn today that I had picked,” he says, “I think about the fact that I’m singing it. Not someone singing it for me.”

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