Building on the promise of immunotherapy for melanoma

Anwar Hakim received immunotherapy for melanoma
Anwar Hakim

Cancer treatment hasn’t slowed Anwar Hakim down. And he wants to keep it that way.

As an architect for an international firm, Anwar Hakim works on projects all over the world. Since starting immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma in May 2016, he has traveled to sites in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “I stay positive and keep active,” he said.

In late 2015, Hakim went to his primary care doctor complaining of fatigue, shortness of breath and abdominal discomfort. Tests revealed tumors in his small bowel, the lower lobe of his left lung and an adrenal gland. He could feel a mass in his upper right thigh. The diagnosis was metastatic melanoma — a shock because Hakim had no sign of the aggressive cancer on his skin.

When a first round of treatment at another hospital failed to slow the cancer, Hakim turned to UChicago Medicine for a second opinion. Former UChicago Medicine medical oncologist Jason Luke, MD, suggested a Phase 1 clinical study of a combination immunotherapy for advanced melanoma based on research done at UChicago.

"Dr. Luke told me about the treatment, the clinical trial and the possible side effects," Hakim said. "And then he said, 'something positive could happen here.' My decision was made easy. Of course, I went all in."

UChicago Medicine had just opened the trial, which aimed to boost the effectiveness of Keytruda, — an immunotherapy — by adding a medication that helps the immune system attack the tumor with maximum power. Hakim was only the 12th patient in the country to enroll in the study.

Six years ago, we didn’t have much to offer patients with advanced melanoma. Now we are seeing unbelievable responses to immunotherapy.

"Six years ago, we didn’t have much to offer patients with advanced melanoma," Luke said. "Now we are seeing unbelievable responses to immunotherapy. And we are bringing what we design in the laboratory to enhance these therapies to our patients at a rapid pace."

For Hakim, the treatment worked quickly. Within nine weeks of starting therapy, his tumors had shrunk dramatically. A year and half later, the tumors are not growing. Because Hakim experienced few side effects, he’s been able to maintain a full schedule of work and travel.

"My wife and two daughters — who were very scared and upset when I was first diagnosed — are thrilled," Hakim said. "This has taken an amazing path for me. I can’t thank my medical team and the entire staff at UChicago Medicine enough. They’re incredible."

Oncologist Rita Nanda, MD, meets with a patient

Cancer Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy refers to a medical treatment that turns the power of the immune system against disease. Cancer immunotherapy acts on the cells of the immune system to seek out, recognize and attack cancer.

Learn about immunotherapy options to treat cancer