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  • Writer's pictureDr. Robert A. Nagourney, MD

Recurrent Lung Cancer Patients Need To “Get Down On It”

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

UPDATE: It is with great sadness that we update this post about the passing of George Brown on November 19th, 2023. He put up a great fight and we honor his memory.

My clinical practice allows me to meet many interesting and colorful figures. One is George "Funky" Brown, founding member of the musical group Kool & the Gang. George was diagnosed in September of 2021with very rare form of non-small cell lung cancer, with an EGFR exon 20 insertion mutation. Although he responded to initial therapy, within the year the tumor came roaring back with metastasis to lymph nodes, lung, pleura and liver.

His physicians in Los Angeles treated him with every drug they could imagine, from the newest classes of targeted drugs to conventional chemotherapies, to immune and anti-vascular therapies all to no avail. George was in trouble. A personal referral led his wife to contact me and we saw the patient the next day.

(Article continues below video)

News story from CBS News2 Los Angeles

With ultrasound assistance, a small amount of fluid was removed from his right chest. With only 57 mL to work with there were just enough cells to test 4 drugs. Two looked active.

One was an experimental drug that has not received FDA approval and could not be obtained despite our best efforts. The other was a relatively simple two drug combination.

We began treatment immediately. I must admit my misgivings. When I met the patient, he was so emaciated and weak that I feared he would be unable to allow me to obtain the lung fluid, let alone receive treatment.

I felt a sense of concern that one so ill would need to undergo treatment, but I realized that without our ability to find and begin something to treat his disease he wouldn’t survive.

On June 28, 2023 he received his first cycle. By the end of the second week he was feeling better. His pain improved and he was eating and gaining weight. By the end of the 3rd cycle the response was dramatic.

Most striking was the measure of his tumor markers. As listed below :

More importantly, he is back to his life. Instead of using a wheelchair or a walker, he is able to walk into the office and he’s looking forward to performing with Kool & the Gang in Las Vegas.

In light of the rarity of the tumor I took it upon myself to seek any source of drugs that could target this rare mutation. To our delight an institution in the LA area had just opened a clinical trial that is testing a related drug. But the experimental drug is only available to select patients who have the correct mutation and who qualify for protocol participation. I made a referral and asked that George be considered for the trial. The physician met with the patient, reviewed the findings, and agreed that he would be a candidate. We are now completing a final cycle of chemotherapy with a scan scheduled for the coming week.

Ironically, when the patient’s wife approached the investigator to ask why his institution does not use our laboratory technology, the technique that had worked so dramatically to save this patient’s life, he said, “Oh, we don’t believe in that work.”

The patient’s wife was aghast.

There was no question that the patient had been failing under the care of another LA institution, and that all the drugs they had thrown at him had caused nothing but toxicity. But when a simple drug combination selected by using the patient’s own cancer cells led to such a dramatic improvement, the doctor simply dismissed it.

The term we apply is “denialism,” the capacity of scientists to deny that which is manifestly obvious and true if it is not consistent with their belief system.

George Brown is alive today because our laboratory analysis identified a simple 2 drug combination that now one else thought to give him. George recently published a memoir Too Hot: Kool and The Gang and Me” Chicago Review Press, 192 pgs, July 2023) and has been happy to describe his miraculous recent journey during interviews.

Yet the physicians caring for him who are uniquely positioned to measure and examine his remarkable response are dismissive. Move along, nothing to see here!

It is shocking that investigators at major institutions continue to deny the validity of human tumor studies for the selection of treatment. Cancer patients cannot wait for their doctor’s glacial pace of advance. These institutional policies must change.

Every patient deserves to receive the right treatment the first time, every time.


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