In 2004, Sharon Belvin was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma at 22 years old. MSK’s Jedd Wolchok, MD, PhD, enrolled her in a clinical trial of ipilimumab, a brand-new type of immunotherapy that harnesses the body’s immune system to attack cancer.
Ms. Belvin was the first person at MSK to have a complete response to the medication, which the US Food and Drug Administration has since approved for metastatic melanoma. In 2018, immunologist James Allison, PhD, who ran clinical trials of ipilimumab with Dr. Wolchok at MSK, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
“After I was diagnosed, I tried every treatment under the sun. While that bought me some time, in the end nothing worked. So when Dr. Wolchok said, ‘You have the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial,’ I jumped on it.
I was really lucky; I didn’t have a lot of side effects. When I had my initial scan after the treatment, my tumors had shrunk 60%. It was insane! The radiologist called Dr. Wolchok to make sure he had the correct patient. And soon after that, my scans showed no evidence of disease. My mind went blank. Until that point, every time I walked into a doctor’s office it was to receive bad news.
Sixteen years later, I’m healthy and the mother of two wonderful children. If I didn’t sign up for the trial, I wouldn’t be alive today. I’m 100% sure of that.”