Trial drug helps rectal cancer patients avoid surgery

Oak Road entrance to The Christie NHS Foundation Trust

A Greater Manchester Police community support officer (PCSO) is cancer free and has avoided surgery for rectal cancer thanks to a new drug, used in combination with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, being trialled at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

Paul Cusick, 75, who served for 22 years in the Household Cavalry before joining the police, initially as a police officer, was referred for a colonoscopy by his GP in January this year, and the fit and healthy former rugby player was diagnosed with rectal cancer, a type of bowel cancer.

Paul from Swinton in Salford was referred from Salford Royal to The Christie in January 2023 to discuss his treatment options, which included being considered for a clinical trial called PRIME RT. The trial is researching a new immunotherapy drug called durvalumab for rectal cancer.

Paul agreed to enter the PRIME RT trial and received radiotherapy and chemotherapy alongside durvalumab. The aim of this combined treatment was to shrink the size of the tumour before planning surgery, to avoid an operation and a possible stoma. The trial drug was given through a tube into a vein in his arm every four weeks for 12 weeks. In some cases, as in Paul’s, the tumour may respond so well to treatment that it is no longer visible on scans or camera tests (endoscopy). Tests at the end of June showed that there are currently no signs of cancer and Paul has had a complete response to treatment.

Dr Claire Arthur, consultant oncologist at The Christie said: “Paul has done incredibly well within the trial and we’re delighted not only with the early results but how well he tolerated his treatment for rectal cancer. We can’t see any remaining cancer following his treatment which is wonderful. But we have to remain cautious as it’s still early days, so Paul will now be closely monitored. Surgery may have required a colostomy which would have made returning to his PCSO role more challenging. and affected his quality of life.”

Paul Cusick, a keen rugby and football fan, who lives with Sally, his partner of 26 years, and has a son and two grandsons said: “I’ve been healthy all my life so getting the diagnosis was a real shock. I’m obviously delighted that the cancer appears to have completely disappeared and I don’t have to have an operation. I didn’t really have any serious side-effects so the whole experience has been really good. This new drug worked for me and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to take it as part of the clinical trial. I was very happy to participate in research as without trials there would be no cures.  I’m now looking forward to getting back on the beat in Bolton later this year.”

The PRIME RT trial completed recruitment in May 2023, including 42 patients across five UK sites including Aberdeen, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Manchester and Oxford. The CRUK Glasgow Clinical Trials Unit is leading the PRIME RT trial and it is sponsored by NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde / University of Glasgow with funding from Astra Zeneca and support from Cancer Research UK. Early results are awaited.

When patients are referred to The Christie to discuss their cancer treatment, details regarding potential clinical trials they may be suitable for will be discussed. Together, the patient and clinical team will decide whether it is appropriate to proceed with a trial or not. More information about taking part in clinical trials can be found here[].