Richard Berry had run out of options.
After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2015, the Keene resident went through the wringer of treatment methods: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
It was a vicious cycle, he said. Just when he thought he was beating it, his prostate-specific antigen levels — a common indicator of prostate cancer — would bounce back up.
By September of 2016, the cancer had also metastasized to his spine and tailbone, and he had a Gleason Score of nine — the grading system, out of 10, used to determine the aggressiveness of prostate cancer.
“... I was kind of nervous at that point,” Berry, 75, said.
But, he never lost hope. In December 2016, Berry connected with Dr. Christopher Sweeney, an oncologist and professor of medicine at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Sweeney was leading a three-year trial in which enzalutamide — an androgen-receptor inhibitor that stops the growth of cancer cells — was being used with testosterone suppression to treat metastasized prostate cancer.
Androgens are hormones, such as testosterone, that are important for male sexual development before birth and during puberty.
Berry — who retired from Markem-Imaje in 2008, and has a wife, Barbara, and three kids — was selected as one of 1,125 men around the world to participate in the trial. Now, a year since his last dose, he’s in deep remission. All detectable evidence of cancer is gone.
“I knew there was a lot of research going on in the cancer area ... so I thought if I can get in on a trial, I might be better off,” Berry said. “I’m a bit of a risk-taker in a way. I’m optimistic.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing enzalutamide to make it more widely available for metastasized prostate-cancer patients, rather than just for use in clinical trials.
Sweeney said Monday afternoon the approval is anticipated “any day now.”
The study found participants taking enzalutamide had “significantly longer” overall survival than those in a second, standard-care group.
Of the trial’s participants, there were 102 deaths in the group using enzalutamide and 143 deaths in the standard-care group, according to Sweeney’s study, which was published in June in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Both groups were given testosterone suppression, but instead of enzalutamide, the standard-care group was given a non-steroidal anti-androgen — another common testosterone blocker.
Overall, three-year survival rates were estimated at 80 percent in the enzalutamide group and 72 percent in the standard-care group. However, it was also more common, the study states, for the enzalutamide group to experience fatigue or seizures.
Seven patients had seizures while using enzalutamide, but no one had a seizure in the standard-care group.
Berry mentioned the fatigue, saying he often felt “foggy.”
“You’re just not mentally as sharp as you normally are. At least I wasn’t,” he said. “I noticed after I stopped [taking the medication] that I’d feel better, but of course I feel better because I’m in deep remission.”
Sweeney added that the study’s results are “very positive,” and the next step is to continue following up with patients at the five- and 10-year marks.
“I feel pretty good, both mentally and physically,” Berry said. “I’m 75 years old and active, and I still can know my name, so I’m pretty good at this point.”