Richard Scolyer shares cancer update after facing ‘certain death’

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A doctor undergoing radical world-first cancer treatment has shared an incredible update less than a year after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour.

World-leading melanoma pathologist and Australian of the Year Professor Richard Scolyer was diagnosed with glioblastoma after suffering a seizure last June. Aware the diagnosis meant “certain death”, the 57-year-old opted to become a ‘guinea pig’ and undergo an experimental treatment that is “shaking up” the way cancer is treated.

Now, Professor Scolyer has shared a post on social media, revealing his tumour has not returned 10 months since his diagnosis.

“Fantastic news!” he wrote on Facebook.

“Amazingly, my latest MRI brain scan shows no recurrence 10 months since my glioblastoma presented with a seizure in Poland.”

“I’m extremely hopeful that the novel neoadjuvant combination immunotherapy I’ve had and the scientific changes we demonstrated in my tumour post versus pre immunotherapy are being translated into clinical benefit!”

He went on thank his family and medical oncologist Georgina Long – who was jointly named the 2024 Australian of the Year – for devising the treatment approach.

“I’d be thrilled and very proud if this novel approach makes a difference for me and future brain cancer patients.”

Speaking to ABC for Monday night’s episode of Australian Story, Professor Scolyer said he was “blown away” by the results.

“This is not what I expected. The average time to recurrence for the nasty type of brain cancer I’ve got is six months. So, to be out this far is amazing,” he told the outlet.

While the results are incredible, Professor Scolyer said things haven’t been all smooth sailing.

In a separate Facebook post last week, he shared he has suffered a “few issues” including inflammation and swelling of the lining of the nasal cavity and an upper respiratory infection.

“But thanks to fabulous management by an outstanding multidisciplinary team including various specialist experts led by Prof Georgina Long I could still exercise,” he wrote, sharing he was well enough to participate in the Melanoma Institute Australia Melanoma March run and Tour de Cure Australia.

“I’m feeling so much better now than I did even a few weeks ago.”

‘A big shockwave’

Professor Scolyer was first told he had cancer while travelling and lecturing at medical conferences in Europe with his pathologist wife Katie in May last year.

A day after hiking the mountains of southern Poland, the ultra-fit Sydney father-of-three suffered a seizure and was rushed to hospital.

There, he was given the news that turned his “life upside down”.

“Cancer was the last thing that I was thinking about … I was right as rain before [the seizure] there were no signs at all that I was unwell,” he previously told news.com.au.

“It’s had a big impact for me and my whole family. It sent a big shockwave through all of us.”

Leaping into action, Professor Long began searching for clinical trials that her friend could join in the hopes of extending or saving his life. But there were none.

So she decided to come up with a new treatment.

Unlike the standard approach – which usually involves surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy – she decided to use combination immunotherapy which would be administered before and after the surgery to remove Professor Scolyer’s tumour.

He’d also receive six weeks of radiotherapy after surgery and be administered a personalised vaccine to combat the tumour.

Professor Long told news.com.au at the time the combination immunotherapy works by helping the immune system recognise the cancer much like a sniffer dog at an airport.

“When a cancer is sitting in someone’s body, your immune system isn’t going to recognise it as an enemy … What our drugs do is it makes the cancer look abnormal to the sniffer dogs – the immune system – so the sniffer dogs can sniff it out, find it and kill it.”

Looking to the future

Professor Scolyer told the ABC work is currently underway to develop protocols for the start of clinical trials.

A scientific paper about his treatment is also undergoing peer review.

Professor Long told the outlet the paper will spark an important debate about cancer treatment, which hasn’t changed in 18 years.

“The world can look at it, can discuss it, can criticise it, can love parts of it,” she said.

“Then we start the foundation of doing things differently and doing new trials in glioblastoma … and it’s by doing that that we can develop the right treatments for the right patient, and then eventually they become a standard treatment.”

Previously speaking to news.com.au, Professor Long said the pair have a clear message for the cancer community: “To change outcomes, you need to be brave and courageous”.

“Even if you go into a large clinical trial, and it’s not successful, the concept of trying novel drugs upfront needs to be embraced, because one of those novel drugs now or into the future will work.”

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