Lee Eric Newton, resident of West Windsor and “poster guy” for the cancer drug atezolizumab, just got some good news: the experimental immunotherapy treatment he has been taking has been approved by the FDA. Newton, who was profiled by U.S. 1 for his battle against advanced bladder cancer (U.S. 1, December 9, 2015) has successfully held off the cancer by joining a clinical trial of the drug, despite the fact that it had already spread to his brain by the time it was discovered.
On May 18 the FDA granted accelerated approval of atezolizumab under the brand name TECENTRIQ for treatment of people with advanced bladder cancer. The drug, made by Genentech, was given to Newton as part of a program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Dr. Sandra Horning, chief medical officer of Roche/Genentech, says that clinical trial results “may represent the first major treatment advancement in advanced bladder cancer in nearly 30 years.”
Newton, 51, and the single father of a high school sophomore daughter, was a hotel executive in China for 12 years and owned his own consulting firm, Global Business Management. Today Newton is on disability and has had to battle his cancer without health insurance. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2011, he started a “GoFundMe” campaign to pay for treatments, which only raised $150.
Because he had no insurance, Newton qualified for care at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Community Health Center at Princeton Medical Center. The tumor was removed and chemotherapy followed, but by 2014 the cancer had spread to his brain. He visited the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and asked if there was a way to use gene therapy to extend his life. “You’ve got to keep me alive until my daughter graduates,” he said. He was then enrolled in the Phase II trial of atezolizumab, which successfully shrank his tumor with few side effects.
Newton is now healthy enough to spend his days outside his Alexander Road home holding signs and showing support for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Newton’s family has a history of political activism: His father, Len Newton, campaigned tirelessly for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Trump, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric has provoked anger from civil rights groups today, has also landed Newton in hot water. If Newton survives his cancer, he may face danger from his political activity. He said he’s been the target of obscene gestures and obscenities and that someone swerved a minivan towards him.