TAMPA - Darlene Gant arrived at Moffitt Cancer Center with hope in her heart. The dying cancer patient had a smile on her face because a little bag of hope has finally arrived.
Pertuzumab is an investigational drug -- not yet approved by the FDA -- that has shown promise in treating Darlene's HER2 positive breast cancer.
When she asked her doctors to get her the drug under what is called 'compassionate care usage,' back in September, she says she got nowhere. And her health declined, her liver full of metastatic breast cancer. Darlene says, "So its down to the wire. I had to do something."
What she did was videotape a last hope appeal to the FDA and Pertuzumab's maker Genentech, and uploaded it to YouTube. Family and friends, dubbed team Darlene, got busy with Facebook and emails contacting both the FDA and Genentech.
Darlene adds, "And then we contacted Linda Hurtado to help. From that point, things started moving."
Genentech released the drug last Friday. The FDA approved the usage and a week later the drug arrived at Moffitt Cancer Center, and Darlene's first infusion began. "For me it could be lifesaving, at least life-extending, which is better than where I am at."
Darlene knows how special this moment is. It's not common for drug companies to release expensive, investigational drugs. Moffitt Pharmacist Michael Hayes explains, "The compassionate use is not done a whole lot. Generally that's done when there's really nothing else that can be done."
Pertuzumab won't cure Darlene's cancer. The goal is to give her as much time as possible. Time with her friends, time with her husband, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer player Brian Gant, time with her 11 year old son, time to help other women with cancer. Darlene says, "People are emailing me saying ‘You're my hero.' All these women are dying in a bed facing the same thing. Somehow, I'm their hero. I never expected to be."
Darlene goes back to Moffitt to receive Pertuzumab's sister drug Herceptin which is already approved by the FDA. She'll be monitored for side effects or reactions. That info will go back to the drug maker and the FDA. Pertuzumab is expected to be approved by FDA sometime in June