Chris Hutchinson started as one of our clinical trial patients back in 2017 – after a terminal cancer diagnosis which left him with limited treatment options. Although the trial did not prove to be beneficial overall and was recently closed, for Chris it was lifesaving!

Chris who is now 42, was diagnosed with an inoperable melanoma of his left lung and commenced a trial through Gallipoli Medial Research Foundation (GMRF) at the Cyril Gilbert Cancer Centre, Greenslopes Private Hospital (GPH) under the expert guidance and supervision of Senior Medical Oncologist Professor Victoria Atkinson.

He recently completed his last treatment as a clinical trial patient, after monthly treatments over the last six years, making him our longest ever patient! The good news for Chris is that the tumour is no longer visible on a scan.

His journey began back in 2010 when a stage 4 melanoma on his back was detected and removed. However, in 2015 the melanoma returned, it had spread to the lymph nodes in his left arm. Forty-two lymph nodes (between the regions of his left underarm to neck) were surgically removed, of which two of the lymph nodes returned to be positive for melanoma. He began 20 rounds of radiation treatment which had some unpleasant side effects such as loss of hair, skin and lost sensation in his arm.

He continued with regular tests and scans which were all normal until in early 2017 when Chris visited his GP as he was feeling a little unwell. A full body scan unfortunately showed the presence of a large mass in his left lung which was consistent with metastatic melanoma.

“The tumour in my lung was the size of a fist and deemed inoperable. We were shocked because I had no major symptoms such as shortness of breath, plus a scan only 6 months earlier gave the all-clear. The melanoma had spread from the original site… once it gets into the blood it can go anywhere, and usually there is a very poor outcome for this type of advanced cancer,” says Chris.

“The surgeon told me there was nothing they could do, they wouldn’t operate, and I only had six months left! He said to sort out your affairs and we went to see a solicitor about a will.”

Chris was referred to Senior Medical Oncologist Professor Victoria Atkinson at GPH to organise palliative care. She asked him if he was interested in going on a GMRF/GPH clinical trial – there happened to be one spot left for this trial.

When Chris commenced the trial, there were drugs approved for the mutations found in his melanoma. The trial was to see if the addition of a new immunotherapy drug would improve the response and survival for these patients.

“I agreed to start the trial right away, I just thought…what have I got to lose? It was a tough time because my partner Sally wasn’t working, the kids were in primary school and I was working full-time, luckily I had plenty of sick leave and annual leave!”

The initial side effects from the trial therapy included fevers and sweats, skin peeling, nausea and vomiting.

Dr Suzanne Elliott, Associate Director of Clinical Trials at GMRF said that although information on side effects are gathered from data collected during drug development, some of these present differently between patients, due to the patient’s own immune response.

Another side effect from the treatment is bone weakness and Chris now has osteopenia (low bone density) so he needs to reduce his risk of injury by doing less physical tasks at work.

“I remember at the start of the trial getting a fever of around 39 degrees for a week, of not wanting to eat and feeling dreadful, Sally was the ‘bucket runner’ and constantly changing sheets from the hot sweats! There were extreme hot sweats and a couple of times I went to emergency it got so bad! Things got better after the first year.”

“Despite the awful side effects, it was 100% worth it all, because it means I am now still here, 6 years later! As painful as it was.”

Incredibly, the tumour started shrinking within the first 6-12 months and one year after he began the trial – there was no evidence of cancer detected! Which was very encouraging and exciting for the clinical trials team.

However, in August 2020, the trial was declared to be negative overall based on the data analysis from the Phase 3 component of the trial. The study did not meet its endpoints and triplet therapy (addition of immunotherapy to the tablets) did not provide additional benefit compared to the tablets alone.

Although the trial didn’t work for others, it was certainly working for Chris, and he was able to continue the treatment.

Chris recently completed his last trial treatment in the Cyril Gilbert Cancer Centre and the pharmaceutical company is in the process of organising a compassionate access program so that Chris can continue to receive treatment outside of the clinical trial setting. He will still return each month for treatment and monitoring under the care of Professor Victoria Atkinson, as a private patient.

“Without all the help and support around me and the caring people at the cancer centre I wouldn’t have got through it. I’ve been coming here so long that everyone around the hospital knows me by name.”

“If I won the lotto, I would donate it to medical research as I have been directly impacted by this trial. I know how important and valuable it is. It saved my life! My kids get to grow up with dad now,” says Chris.

Dr Elliott explains that sadly, not all trials are successful and not every participant responds well to the trial treatment like Chris did.

“This is the reason why we continue to take on clinical trials of new drugs or combinations to explore the potential that these may work in others who have relapsed on standard or other trial treatments,” said Dr Elliott.

Our trials are coordinated in partnership with GPH, Ramsay Pharmacy and the Cyril Gilbert Cancer Centre.

Our Clinical Trials Unit includes a team of specialist research nurses and scientists who provide our research partners with first-class conduct, management and coordination of multi-centre national and international clinical research trials. Patient-focussed care is at the heart of everything they do.

For more information on our currently recruiting studies scan the QR code below and search Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation.