Rock Star and Oral Cancer Survivor Launches Immunotherapy Fundraiser

Dentistry Today


Drummer Rikki Rockett has a different outlook on life as he heads out on tour with his band Poison this spring. A year ago, he didn’t even know if he would survive while he was battling tongue cancer. But after participating in an immunotherapy clinical trial at the Moores Cancer Center, he was declared cancer-free in July 2016. And now he wants to give back.

“Without the doctors and staff at Moores Cancer Center, I can honestly say I don’t think I’d be here today, to say nothing about playing drums and going on tour again,” said Rockett. “I am incredibly grateful that I’ve got my life back and I’ll get to see my 2 children grow up.”

At American stops on Poison’s tour through June, fans will hear his story and watch a video about the Moores Cancer Center. Also, fans anywhere will be able to donate $10 to the center by texting “RIKKI” to 50555. Donations will directly support cancer immunotherapy, including research, clinical trials, and patient care.

Rather than directly targeting tumors as in traditional cancer therapies, immunotherapy boosts the body’s immune system to better enable it to attack cancer cells itself. Compared to traditional therapy, it has fewer side effects, it can specifically eradicate cancer cells anywhere in the body, and it’s effective against tumors that are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation.

“We are delighted that Rikki responded so well to immunotherapy. He had already been through a lot with chemotherapy and radiation treatment before he came to us, but his cancer recurred,” said Ezra Cohen, MD, co-head of the Solid Tumor Therapeutics Research Program, associate director of Translational Sciences, and one of Rockett’s oncologists at the center. 

“While this approach is still in the early stages and isn’t right for everyone, with Rikki’s support we hope to make immunotherapy available to more patients before they have to go through everything he did,” said Cohen.

Rockett’s clinical trial is testing a combination of 2 immunotherapy drugs that remove the defenses cancers use to hide from the immune system. The first is Keytruda, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for some cancers but only recently approved for Rockett’s type of oral cancer. The second experimental drug is called epacadostat.

“My hope is that by talking to other cancer patients, I might be able to lessen their pain and suffering,” said Rockett. “I know from experience that chemotherapy and radiation are not fun. If I can help anyone else, it would help give reason to what I went through.”

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