NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A groundbreaking skin cancer treatment will soon take place in New Orleans.
The ideal candidates: patients whose cancer can't be removed with surgery, controlled with treatments or has spread to other parts of the body.
It's an aggressive form of skin cancer that can quickly spread, and right now there are a few options to treat it.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma took the life of Al Copeland Sr. in 2008. Since then, Al Copeland Jr., through his foundation, the Al Copeland Foundation, has fought to find a cure that might have saved his father and others.
"So when we found that immunotherapy was having progress here, we jumped right on it and wanted to fund those initiatives to get there," says Copeland.
Today, Copeland appeared at the Louisiana Cancer Research Center alongside doctors and experts with LSU Health to announce a breakthrough trial that may hold the key in fighting this type of cancer.
The treatment uses a drug known as MK 3475 which researchers say kick starts a person's immune system to battle and defeat virus based cells without chemotherapy or radiation.
"What it does by binding to the receptor, it causes activation of the patient's immune system," says Dr. Adam Riker, LSU Health Director of Oncology. "And in many cases, it can cause what we call a complete response to therapy."
The trial allows local patients who meet certain requirements to get treatment right here in New Orleans.
Ideally, LSU Health seeks six to 10 people to participate.
Harry Nunez of Covington was diagnosed in 2015 with Merkel Cell Carcinoma. He had to travel to New York for treatment that lasted two months. Today, he's cancer free but should it reappear he can stay here for help.
"Not that I'm looking forward to it coming back. But if it does come back, that's what we'll do," says Nunez.
With a multimillion dollar investment in new equipment and a lab full of researchers devoted to finding out the effectiveness of this drug, researchers say this trial us promising, but for Copeland, it's even more.
"It's a miracle it lined up like it did," says Copeland. "Because we didn't know Merkel Cell would be the trial that was approved in Louisiana. And it just so happened it worked out that way, so that's a blessing."
For more information on the trial and to see whether or not you qualify call (504) 407-7395.