Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in 2018 but is now “asymptomatic” after receiving a new and innovative cancer treatment.
The musician was administered Lutetium-177, a type of radioactive treatment that targets cancer cells. In an interview with The Times, he said: “I was classified as palliative, end-of-life care. Now I’m not; I’m asymptomatic.”
In reference to Christopher Evans, the scientist who created the treatment, he said: “He’s a genius. I call him the Elon Musk of cancer.”
The Times reports that Taylor became “radioactive for several days” and had to sleep alone for two weeks following each treatment.
The treatment has been described as “cutting-edge” and is expected to have extended Taylor’s life by five years.
“Lutetium-177 . . . can both identify the location of cancer and treat the cancer,” explains Dr. Mona S. Jhaveri, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry and trained as a post-doctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute.
Lutetium-177 is classed as a radioactive drug that uses gamma and beta emitters to detect and kill cancer as effectively as radiation treatment.
Jhaveri describes it as “unique”.
“It’s targeted to specific prostate cancer cells. This enables internal and more precise radiation treatment, compared to external radiation treatment that uses radiation beams to target tumors,” she explains.
Similarly, Stewart Parnacott, a certified and registered nurse anesthetist, says Lutetium-177 is an “innovative approach” to cancer treatment.
“Administered through an intravenous route, this radioactive compound selectively attaches to cancer cells due to their specific receptors,” he explains. “Following attachment, emitted radiation damages the DNA of the cancer cells, hindering their ability to proliferate. The precision of this treatment aims to minimize the impact on healthy surrounding tissues.”
Parnacott says this therapy has achieved “notable” success, particularly in cases where traditional treatments have faltered.
“Success rates can vary based on factors such as cancer type and stage, of course, but patients with neuroendocrine tumors, for instance, have reported substantial tumor reduction and extended periods without progression,” he says. “The effectiveness lies in the treatment’s ability to precisely target cancer cells, mitigating impact on neighboring healthy tissues.”
Jhaveri also believes the results are impressive.
“According to the VISION trial, Lutetium-177 increased survival by 38%, which is huge considering late-stage prostate cancer is not curable with the current standard of care treatments,” she says.
Many cancer treatments are known for causing severe and, at times, debilitating side effects. However, the targeted nature of Lutetium-177 therapy may reduce the likelihood of those side effects.
Jhaveri says the side effects of Lutetim-177 are mostly mild, but there is a concern with bone marrow toxicity. Generally, though, she says patients experience less pain and deterioration when compared to other cancer treatments.
“Patients tend to experience fewer drastic side effects and [have an] improved quality of life over the standard of care. Therefore, patients are not only living longer with this drug, but they are also living better,” she surmises.
Likewise, Parnacott says Lutetium-177 is generally well-tolerated.
“It can induce side effects due to its impact on healthy tissues, but it’s essential to acknowledge that side effects can differ among individuals, and medical teams are diligent in managing any discomfort,” he notes.
Some side effects of Lutetium-177 include:
- decreased appetite
- diminished blood cell counts
While Lutetium-177 has proven effective for Taylor, it won’t be right for everyone, and cancer patients will need to meet certain criteria to qualify for it.
Notably, Lutetium-177 therapy is effective for specific types of cancer, including neuroendocrine tumors, but is only indicated for people with prostate cancer who have not responded to previous chemotherapy with androgen pathway inhibitors, such as docetaxel.
“In terms of qualifying, this drug is for patients with late-stage/metastatic prostate cancer whose cancer expresses a specific protein called the prostate cancer membrane antigen,” Jhaveri explains. “Approximately 80-90% of prostate cancers express this protein, enabling Lutetium-177 to be used as a targeted approach to finding and destroying prostate cancer cells.”
Parnacott says qualifying for this treatment involves evaluating many variables, including cancer type, stage, extent of spread, and suitability for other targeted therapies.
“Patient eligibility is determined collaboratively by oncologists, nuclear medicine specialists, and other pertinent experts, to ensure appropriateness of treatment,” he explains.
Choosing a cancer treatment is a huge decision, one that comes with many considerations.
“Patients contemplating Lutetium-177 treatment should weigh the potential benefits and associated risks,” agrees Parnacott.
“Pros include its precision, potential tumor reduction, and extended periods without progression. Conversely, patients should be cognizant of potential side effects and the necessity for close monitoring,” he surmises.
Parnacott says embarking on a new cancer treatment involves informed decision-making through conversations with the medical team, accounting for individual medical history and aspirations.
Ultimately, no cancer treatment is shown to be 100% effective, and while Andy Taylor has certainly experienced positive results with Lutetium-177 therapy, Parnacott says it is imperative to underscore the personalized nature of cancer treatment decisions.
“Lutetium-177 therapy continues to advance and ongoing research and enhancements in patient selection and treatment protocols hold promise for improved outcomes and patient experiences,” he says.
Patients considering treatment with lutetium-177 need a comprehensive assessment that includes a review of their medical history and previous cancer treatment, a discussion with their oncologist regarding its potential benefits and side effects, and their treatment preferences.