Former Milton Keynes builder with terminal cancer is given fresh lease of life thanks to 'miracle' drug
A builder who was told his cancer was a death sentence has seen his tumours almost disappear after taking part in clinical trials of a new drug.
Michael Conway, 69, was diagnosed three years ago with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs associated with exposure to asbestos, often decades previously.
Doctors told him the cancer was terminal and he had just a year to live.
Michael, known as Mick, instructed specialist asbestos-related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his illness and where he may have been exposed to the hazardous material.
The lawyer helped him take his previous employers to court over the asbestos issue and they won an agreement that they would fund his treatment.
His legal team also referred Mick to mesothelioma specialist Professor Dean Fennell, Director of the Mesothelioma Research Programme at the Leicester Cancer Research Centre.
Professor Fennell was working on the CheckMate-743 immunotherapy drug trial, with other international mesothelioma specialists. The clinical trial evaluated the use of Nivolumab (Opdivo) in combination with Ipilimumab (Yervoy), compared to chemotherapy treatment in patients who had previously untreated malignant pleural mesothelioma.
It works by boosting the immune system to attack the cancer cells and can also be used for other forms of cancer.
Within months of starting the drugs, Mick found his tumours had shrunk from 21mm and 29mm to a tiny 5mm.
Now, having lived two years past his original prognosis date, he has this week welcomed the news that the combination treatment Ipi/Nivo is now to be made available on the NHS to mesothelioma patients everywhere.
It is reported to have a 40 per cent success rate in prolonging the lives to patients with the terminal asbestos cancer.
Mick said he suffered few side effects from the Nivlumab and Ipilimumab. He noticed only itchy hands and a reduced sense of smell - coupled with the fact that his hair grew darker.
“At some points, I felt so little difference that I thought I must be on a placebo, but within a few months my tumours had shrunk. It was a miracle and my wife and I were overjoyed."
He is now enjoying spending quality time with wife Denise, his children Hayley and Daniel and his three grandchildren.
“I am still having regular checks but I have not needed any further treatment and there has been no further growth in the tumours," he said.
"When I was given the news of my diagnosis, I thought it was a death sentence. While I don’t fully know what the future holds, I am thankful beyond words for the benefit I have had and I cherish every day I can spend time with my family.
"I am so grateful to Satpal and the team for suggesting that we contact a specialist which then led to a place on the trial."
Mick said he had no doubts about taking part in the experiment.
“With a terminal cancer diagnosis, I had nothing to lose and the knowledge that there was an option provided some much needed hope and positivity during a very dark period.
“I knew that even if the trial didn’t work for me, it could pave the way for better outcomes and cures for other patients in the future, so it is great to see the drug now available via the Early Access to Medicine Scheme and an option for others to benefit from in the years ahead."
Satpal Singh said: “A mesothelioma diagnosis can come as a terrible shock and we do all we can to help clients like Mick, not just with the legal process, but with advice on appropriate support and information options for treatment."
He added: “I informed Mick about a clinical trial being undertaken by Professor Fennell and Mick then promptly met with Professor Fennell and was accepted on to the CheckMate-743 trial. It is fantastic to see Mick doing so very well, given the initial poor prognosis.
“The availability of the combination treatment Ipi/Nivo is exciting news and hopefully the start of treatments that can offer longer life and improved quality of life to many more patients like Mick living with this asbestos-related cancer.”
Mick had visited his GP in 2017 because he was still in pain weeks after an accident where a door fell on him at work. An X-ray confirmed broken ribs, but also revealed fluid and a shadow on his lungs. A CT scan, followed by a lung biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of mesothelioma.
He said: “To be diagnosed with mesothelioma was such a shock. I have never known a day’s illness in my life and the news turned our world upside down.
"To be told out of the blue you have an inoperable, terminal disease is devastating. You find yourself sitting at home thinking ‘why me’ and simply don’t know what to do or where to turn. Satpal suggested we speak to a mesothelioma specialist and when they said I was eligible for the Checkmate trial, I jumped at the chance.”
He added: “Satpal helped me win my case against my previous employers by taking them to court. My previous employers have agreed to fund any private treatment that is recommended for me.
“Professor Szlosarek is on hand in the legal case to provide me with other treatment options should I need them and I am still under the care of Professor Fennell. Whilst I am sad not to be working and having to leave my job that I loved early, the legal claim has ensured that I have financial security for Denise and myself.”