Story by: Nick Picht; Reviewed by Kaylyn D. Sinicrope, M.D. on October 16, 2023
These days, Bob Krueger spends a lot of time on the road.
Every few weeks, he drives roughly 200 miles from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, to Louisville, Kentucky. The time in the car is long, but it gives Bob, his wife Anita, and his daughters some much-needed time to talk, bond and play some trivia.
The games are a good distraction from the reason why the Kruegers come to Louisville. At the center of their trips is a visit to Norton Cancer Institute, where Bob sees Kaylyn D. Sinicrope, M.D., a neuro-oncologist.
Around February 2023, Bob started feeling dizzy.“By the time March came around, I was out golfing and I couldn’t finish the fifth hole,” Bob said. “I had to quit.”
On March 2, 2023, through an MRI, doctors found a tumor on Bob’s brain. A week later, he had surgery to remove it and was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a fast-growing and lethal type of brain cancer. The 81-year-old former engineer was given a 12 to 18 months to live.
“I was in shock,” Bob said. “It was devastating. And then I found out what glioblastoma was, and that it’s life-threatening and that there’s really no cure for it as of this time. It was depressing.”
“Glioblastoma is what’s called a primary brain tumor,” Dr. Sinicrope said. “It’s what happens when some of the cells that are naturally in your brain grow unrestricted and create a tumor. And unfortunately, glioblastoma is a particularly aggressive cancer that is not very responsive to treatments. Uniformly, this is a fatal disease. It’s terminal at diagnosis.”
Yet, Bob fought.
In April, he began oral chemotherapy treatment in an attempt to keep the malignant cells from growing back. He had been taking the medication for a few months and, to that point, had success.
Then in June, Bob was watching TV at home, when he saw a story on the local news.
“They had a clip saying there was a breakthrough treatment for glioblastoma,” Bob said. “On there, they had the name of the place conducting the trial in New York, so I called them right away.”
The news clip referenced an experimental vaccine — created by New York-based company MimiVax — that’s designed to delay the progression of glioblastoma. The vaccine is called SurVaxM and targets a protein found in glioblastoma tumors called survivin. The thought: Get rid of survivin, and the cancer will die.
For more information on SurVaxM and clinical trials, follow this link.
SurVaxM is currently in Phase 2 of a randomized, placebo-based clinical trial, meaning some patients will receive the active drug, and some will received a placebo. The drug is administered as an injection and the trial is considered “blind,” meaning neither the patients nor doctors administering the treatments know if the patients are receiving the vaccine or placebo. Patients are able to participate in the trial while continuing their standard oral chemotherapy treatment. In the early stages, SurVaxM was found to extend survival time for people diagnosed with glioblastoma to 26 months on average.
Phase 2 is currently being conducted at 10 sites across the United States. Among them is Norton Cancer Institute, where Dr. Sinicrope sees patients.
“I think it’s really profound what we’re able to do here,” Dr. Sinicrope said. “It allows us to bring to Louisville and our neighboring states an opportunity to seek a treatment that’s starting to show effect, to do something that’s unique that will potentially will help [patients]. I think oftentimes, this area is not as robust in its availability of clinical trials. So I feel happy that we’re able to bring better access to cutting-edge treatments.”
This experimental vaccine, with promising results, is why Bob and his family have driven 3 1/2 hours to Louisville every few weeks since the beginning of July.
“No pun intended, but it’s like a no-brainer,” Bob said. “Because you get the same treatment you normally get, and so this is just like a bonus. If I’m getting the placebo that’s fine.”
On his September visit, six months after his diagnosis and surgery, Bob’s visit to Norton Cancer Institute is not a sad one. It’s quite the opposite. Bob’s most-recent MRI revealed his tumor has not grown back. And while he may not know why, he’s certainly grateful for more time with his family.
“The tumor pretty much isn’t there, and that helps you be a little optimistic about the situation,” Bob said. “I pray a lot. What else can I do? There’s really no outs, so you have to look for the best solution.”
“To be able to prolong life for somebody” is amazing,” Dr. Sinicrope said. “We’re seeing mothers on this trial. We’re seeing grandfathers and wonderful people — and to give them more time, that’s beautiful. And to maybe someday be able to cure this disease, that’s a huge impact on each individual that we can potentially help.”
So as he wraps up his follow-up visit, Bob and his family get back in the car and prepare to make yet another journey back home. It’s a 200-mile drive that allows time for trivia and reflection.
“I highly recommend people do the study,” Bob said. “With this new vaccine, it gives hope for a much better outcome. It’s a no-brainer, and hopefully you help to find a cure for this cancer. You really have nothing to lose.”
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