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When William Sanders was diagnosed with bladder cancer last summer, he assumed he would undergo chemotherapy before surgery. However, when he started treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center, he was surprised to find out he another option: a clinical trial.

William Sanders decided to enroll in a clinical trial instead of undergo standard chemotherapy for bladder cancer.

William Sanders decided to enroll in a clinical trial instead of undergo standard chemotherapy for bladder cancer.

Sanders already has hearing loss and neuropathy in his feet and hands and was worried chemotherapy would make those symptoms worse. “At the point I was at, I felt the trial was in my best interest,” he said. “It was also in other people’s best interest—someone has to help with this research.”

Sanders joined a first of its kind trial for patients with muscle invasive bladder cancer, where cancer invades into the deeper layer of the bladder. While chemotherapy is the gold standard treatment for the disease prior to surgical removal of the bladder, the trial’s goal is to find an alternative option. It combines immune checkpoint inhibitors with an oncolytic virus, CG0070, that is genetically engineered to attack cancer cells. The virus is injected into the bladder to ignite an immune response and then that response is amplified by the immunotherapy treatment that release the natural break on your immune system and triggers a cancer-specific attack.

Sanders was given six weekly injections of the virus inside his bladder, and in two of those six weeks, received an infusion of immune checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo.

“I didn’t have a lot of side effects,” said Sanders. “I had a rash and was tired some days, but I don’t think it was as bad as it would have been if I went to the chemotherapy route.”

As part of the trial, samples of the cancer are taken before and after treatment to further understand the effect of the treatment on the bladder. Post treatment biopsy samples taken from Sander’s bladder showed there were no cancer cells left in the bladder.

In January, Sanders had his bladder, prostate gland and pelvic lymph nodes removed. The bladder pathology at the time of surgery also showed no residual cancer cells—another indication the treatment regimen was successful.

“I would recommend the trial to anyone,” he said. “I feel very fortunate I was enrolled in the program.”

The trial is still enrolling patients. Moffitt has also opened another trial that will combine the same oncolytic virus with a different immunotherapy agent for patients with recurrent non-muscle invasive bladder cancer following Bacillus Calmette-Guerin treatment, the most common intravesical immunotherapy for treating early stage bladder cancer.