Patient-centred research offers hope | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse

Hafiz Al Hachami understands the importance of hope all too well. At the age of 37, he fled Iraq and settled in Australia as a refugee. Several years later, in 2015, a tumour was discovered behind his liver. He was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that begins in smooth muscle tissue.

After major surgery, he started on a marathon of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, scans and clinical trials that continue to this day.

“I’ve been suffering all the five years,” he says, remembering chemotherapy as the worst period of all. “I felt like I was dying,” he says. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. My voice was gone. I couldn’t sleep. My body was sore everywhere. It was a terrible feeling.”

Immunotherapy was less taxing but triggered Type 1 Diabetes – a recognised side-effect that affects less than 1% of patients.

“I didn’t feel anything with the Immunotherapy”, he says. “I would take my treatment and the next day go to work … But I lost my vision. I went to the hospital. They asked me, ‘Did you take your insulin today?’ I said, ‘What insulin? I’m not diabetic’. And they said ‘Yes, you are’.”

Just before his 46th birthday and with metastatic disease in his liver and lungs, Mr Al Hachami was given a devastating prognosis.

“My oncologist said there were no more options. She shocked me in that moment. She told me I have max 12 months.”

It left him feeling hopeless in the true sense of the word.

But the following day, hope was rekindled by a different specialist – his endocrinologist.

“He is the best. He asked how I feel. I told him my story. He said ‘let me help you’. He referred me to Lifehouse. It was not his job; it was extra…

“He said to me, ‘there is always hope’. That’s why now I’m fighting.”

Mr Al Hachami is now a patient at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and a participant in a multicentre Phase 1 study of SQ3370. SQ3370 is a modular treatment that involves local intratumoral injection of a prodrugcapturing biomaterial (SQL70) followed by 5 daily infusions of SQP33, an attenuated
prodrug of doxorubicin (Dox).

The hope is that direct delivery to the tumour site may reduce toxicity and potentially activate an immune response. The Phase 1 trial is studying the safety and tolerability of SQ3370, and will determine the maximum dose and recommended Phase 2 dose.

Chris O’Brien Lifehouse is one of two hospitals in Australia recruiting for the study, along with several institutions in the United States.

“They’re not sure if it will work with me or not and we don’t know the result yet. I don’t know what will happen to me,” Mr Al Hachami says. “But my oncologist told me, ‘go home and die’. This is what she means.

“My doctor gave me hope. Sometimes, hope makes us win our fight. Even if there is no solution or no treatment, the hope will make your body fight from the inside.”

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Chris O’Brien Lifehouse is one of the largest cancer clinical trials centres in Australia. Learn more about clinical trials.

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Phase 1 clinical trials like the one above are co-ordinated by a philanthropically-funded role. Find out more about how philanthropy drives research.

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