Cancer patient’s remarkable recovery after first dose of experimental new drug

A clinical trials patient at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, who didn’t think she would make it to Christmas, is celebrating a new lease of life, having had a remarkable response to a new treatment that targets a specific gene that controls how cancer grows. 

Terri Hurdman, 49, from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire was left completely exhausted and out of breath from simple tasks such as climbing the stairs, walking a short distance or even talking on the phone due to her cancer. But within hours of trialling a new drug, she was climbing stairs with no effort and after 3 months, scans showed her tumours had halved in size. 

Terri, who has 3 grown-up children and 6 grandchildren, found out she had advanced bowel cancer on Valentine’s Day two years ago. The previously fit and healthy factory worker, who was used to doing manual work for a firm producing medical supplies, had no symptoms until she got stomach-ache and thought it might be IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). 

Having been referred by her GP to Kidderminster hospital, where she was diagnosed with stage 4 (the most advanced stage) colorectal cancer, which had spread to her lungs, she started chemotherapy a month later. After 3 types of chemotherapy didn’t work, she was told she had no other options and was taken off the drugs.

By August 2021 Terri had become very ill, had lost a stone and a half in weight, and was becoming weaker, so she was forced to use a wheelchair to get out and about. She didn’t think she’d make it to Christmas which she desperately wanted to spend with her mum, Carol, younger sister, Sam, and the rest of her family. 

Luckily for Terri her consultant at Kidderminster hospital knew The Christie was running early phase clinical trials which used targeted therapies, a type of cancer treatment that targets the genes and proteins that control how cancer cells grow and spread. It is the foundation of precision medicine. 

Terri travelled to Manchester in September 2021 to see if there was a clinical trial that would be suitable. Terri’s DNA had already been analysed as part of standard NHS testing, and it was found she had a mutation in the KRAS gene of her cancer. This gene provides instructions for making a protein called K-Ras that can make cancers grow. This is a well-known gene in cancer and until recently there had been no effective treatments available as it has been very hard for scientists to design drugs to treat this particular gene. 

Fortunately, there was a new international clinical trial that was designed specifically for people with the gene mutation that Terri has. There are several types of KRAS mutation and Terri has the specific one that the new drug is targeting. She passed the screening and was recruited onto the trial. Immediately after taking the first dose of the tablets last October her condition improved significantly. So much so, Terri was able to walk up some stairs without getting out of breath for the first time in months. 

Christie clinical trials patient, Terri Hurdman said: “It’s like a miracle. It really is a wonder drug. Within days I didn’t need to use the wheelchair at all, and I didn’t get out of breath climbing stairs, which would have previously led to a coughing fit. That day I spoke to my sister on the phone for an hour, something that would have wiped me out before.
"My appetite came back, which made me look so much healthier, and the colour returned to my cheeks. I didn’t think I’d make it to Christmas, but now I’m looking forward to celebrating my 50th birthday in July. I feel myself again and I’m able to enjoy life.”

Dr Matthew Krebs, medical oncologist from The Christie and The University of Manchester, leading on the study in the UK said: “We are delighted at the response Terri has had to this treatment. Her scans show that her tumours have reduced by nearly 50% in just 3 months. This is promising for a drug early in its development directed at KRAS mutation that has historically been very difficult to treat.  It targets only a specific sub-type of KRAS mutation, and a similar drug has already been approved for patients with lung cancer.
"There’s much more work to do before this drug may be available routinely for patients, and not everyone will respond in this way, but Terri’s case highlights the importance of genetic testing in cancer patients and the potential benefits that clinical trials of new drugs can hold.”

Last updated: March 2022