Chemist finds hope in experimental drug

Dec 5, 2003

A Kettering Chemistry professor has had the unique opportunity to be on the receiving end of his area of expertise. Dr. Daryl Doyle, professor of Chemistry, is participating in a clinical drug trial for a new form of chemotherapy.

A Kettering Chemistry professor has had the unique opportunity to be on the receiving end of his area of expertise. Dr. Daryl Doyle, professor of Chemistry, is participating in a clinical drug trial for a new form of chemotherapy.

In the past 40 weeks Doyle has received weekly infusions of the new drug Erbitux (generic name cetuximab), being tested by Bristol-Myers Squibb and ImClone. "I was at the end of my rope," said Doyle, "when I went on Erbitux it was my last option."

Doyle had undergone numerous surgeries and other chemotherapy treatment programs prior to being included in the Erbitux clinical trial. "I was placed on the drug the last day that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) allowed people to go on the experimental form of Erbitux for the trial at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor," he said. "The people at St. Joseph's worked through the weekend to make sure of my eligibility on the following Monday."

Erbitux is a monoclonal antibody form of chemotherapy. Many forms of chemotherapy are cytotoxic, meaning they suppress bone marrow function, and do not differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells. Monoclonal antibody chemotherapies are more targeted so there are fewer side effects.

At Easter time in 1998, at age 48, Doyle had a sigmoid colonoscopy that turned up nothing, By Fourth of July a full colonoscopy showed 85 percent blockage in his transverse colon. Surgery was scheduled and in a preliminary appointment with his surgeon was the first time Doyle heard the word "cancer."

"It hit me like a ton of bricks" he said. "My oldest brother had died at 55 of pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis left me wondering if I would live to see my youngest child graduate from high school," Doyle said. Then he had to go home and tell wife Linda and their children, Luke, Nissa, Molly and Trista.

The colo-rectal cancer had not penetrated his colon wall, but there were tell-tale spots on his liver, an indicator of stage three cancer. Even though a biopsy showed the cancer had not spread, he and his doctor decided to start chemotherapy treatments as a precaution. A year later, while still undergoing treatment, doctors found the cancer had spread to his liver.

"They removed a portion of my liver and inserted a pump to deliver the chemo right to the liver," said Doyle. Complications with the pump required its removal 14 months later, but tests showed the liver was clear of cancer. During a routine colonoscopy in February of 2001, doctors found a spot on the small intestine where it connects to the colon that they thought was scar tissue, it was cancer, again.

"It was much harder to take the second time around," said Doyle, "because I had believed I was clear. I was so naive about cancer treatment."

Doyle first heard about Erbitux while taking another drug that was not working. Getting into the clinical trial was only the first step. Patients were evaluated after the first six treatments to determine if the drug was having any effect. If not, they were removed from the treatment. Doyle's cancer responded after only a few treatments. "My doctor was excited before the sixth treatment because I had the rash associated with the drug's effectiveness," he said.

"Erbitux gave me new hope, it allows me to have ambition and set goals," said Doyle, who had postponed accepting a new appointment at Kettering, as director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), until he knew if the Erbitux would work.

As a scientist Doyle appreciates all scientific research, but he is especially grateful for research into new drug therapies. "Personally, without all these drugs, my life expectancy was very short. When I was diagnosed with cancer at 48, I was too young to think about dying," he said.

"I have taken to sharing my experiences with my students so they know where I am if I need to miss class because of chemo treatments. I'm amazed at how many of them have been touched by cancer through family or friends, or sometimes, they themselves are cancer survivors," Doyle said. "I find talking about my health therapeutic, so if somebody asks me how I'm doing they had better really want to know how I'm doing, because I'm going to tell them!"

He did just that at a national meeting of Bristol Myers Squibb and ImClone researchers, sales representatives and staff, Dec. 2 and 3 in Phoenix. After presentation of a video diary and interview, Doyle answered questions related to his Erbitux experience.

"Cancer has made me step back from my life and take stock of my priorities. I realized my family is most important to me, and also that what I love most is teaching. I want to do the best possible job I can in the classroom," said Doyle. He has obviously achieved that goal. In 2002, Doyle was recognized as "Outstanding Teacher of Year," by the Kettering/GMI Alumni Association.

Doyle accepted the position as director of CETL after his sixth week on Erbitux. He continues to plan for the future.

Written by Dawn Hibbard