Brazilian soccer legend Pelé died of colon cancer. Here are the cutting-edge clinical trials trying to find new treatments for the disease.

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Pelé died of colon cancer, one of the most common types.Clive Mason/Getty
  • The Brazilian soccer legend Pelé died of colon cancer Thursday at 82.

  • Colon cancer is the third most common cancer, affecting almost 2 million people each year.

  • Here are the US clinical trials studying new treatment options for the disease.

The Brazilian soccer legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, died of colon cancer Thursday at the age of 82. He is considered one of the greatest soccer players ever — he was on the Brazilian national team for three World Cup wins, he was one of the top goal scorers in history, and he helped popularize the sport in the US.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International. In 2020, there were more than 1.9 million cases and 930,000 deaths across the globe. It's expected to become more common by 2040, with a predicted increase to 3.2 million cases and 1.6 million deaths a year, which emphasizes the need for good treatment options.

Pelé isn't the only celebrity to have died of colon cancer in recent years — the Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died of the disease in 2020 at the age of 43.

In the US, there are four phase-three clinical trials investigating the efficacy of new treatment options, according to a list put together by the National Cancer Institute. Here are the cutting-edge phase-three clinical trials for colon cancer, in order of how recently they began.

One trial is testing the combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy

One trial is testing the effects of chemotherapy and a monoclonal antibody, called atezolizumab, in treating a kind of colon cancer caused from DNA being unable to repair itself. Atezolizumab, sold under the brand name Tecentriq, is manufactured by Roche's Genentech and is already used to treat several other cancers, including lung, liver, and skin cancer.

The trial is testing whether combining this immunotherapy, which helps the immune system attack cancer cells, and chemotherapy will yield better results than chemotherapy alone. It began in September 2017 and is expected to end in April 2024.

Another trial is studying how vitamin D3 could help supercharge cancer treatments

The Solaris trial is comparing what happens when patients are treated with chemotherapy and a monoclonal antibody with what happens when vitamin D3 is added to that treatment option.

Vitamin D3 helps the body absorb calcium, which is necessary for healthy bones. Scientists think it may also affect the immune system and help treat and prevent some cancer types.

The study began in September 2019 and is expected to end in July 2024.

A trial is studying 4 methods of treatment to see which is the best

A third study is investigating the effects of different treatment options versus "active surveillance," or watching closely but not treating, for patients who have been treated for colon cancer but are at risk of it coming back.

If a tumor is not totally killed, it may still be spreading its DNA throughout the body, and patients who test positive for this tumor DNA may be at a higher risk of the tumor coming back. The four treatment groups are chemotherapy, active surveillance, immunotherapy, and drugs that block cell growth.

The trial started in January 2020 and is expected to end in February.

The most recent clinical trial is testing a new drug

The most recent trial to begin is looking at a brand-new drug called XL092 that blocks tumor growth, as well as other important tumor functions, when used in combination with atezolizumab. XL092 is being developed by Exelixis, a Bay Area biotech company that develops cancer drugs.

The trial will compare this option with just using regorafenib, which is already used in colon-cancer treatment. The trial began in September and is expected to end in February 2026.


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