Mediaplanet: What’s improving the experience for blood cancer patients?

Jennifer Brown: The advances in understanding the science that underlies blood cancers are starting to transform our treatments. Overall, this is allowing the development of oral targeted therapies that are sometimes very effective and often have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy. Sometimes these therapies are used together with traditional chemotherapy, but in other cases they are so effective that they can even be used alone, in place of traditional chemotherapies.

"Not only are trials the way we learn and get these great new drugs to market, they are also the way we provide these drugs to our patients sometimes years before the drugs do come to market."

In the disease that I study—a chronic form of blood cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia—we have several categories of new oral drugs that are completely transforming the way we treat the disease.

This transformation started in 2014 with the FDA approvals of the BTK inhibitor ibrutinib and the PI3K inhibitor idelalisib, and now we have additional inhibitors in advanced clinical trials designed to get them approved by the FDA and on the market; these include the BTK inhibitor acalabrutinib, the PI3K inhibitor duvelisib, and a new class of agent, the BCL2 inhibitor venetoclax. These drugs are so profoundly effective that they have already displaced chemotherapy for many patients who have had prior therapy, and they are now being studied for those who have not had prior therapy.

MP: What’s the one thing patients and doctors should know about blood cancers?

JB: Given all these advancements, I think it is very important for a patient with blood cancer who is newly diagnosed or having disease progression to make sure they are seen by a specialist who can do all the state-of-the-art testing on their cancer, since sometimes we can target specific subtypes of the disease with specific therapies.

This testing will also allow patients to learn what clinical trials may be available for their specific situation. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of clinical trials and participating in clinical trials: Not only are trials the way we learn and get these great new drugs to market, they are also the way we provide these drugs to our patients sometimes years before the drugs do come to market. Until we have a cure for all patients with blood cancers, I would strongly encourage all patients to consider participating in a clinical trial.

MP: How are innovations in treatment empowering the patients themselves?

JB: I think the explosion of new information about each disease and the availability of new therapies gives patients themselves the opportunity to learn what is available from a diagnostic, prognostic and therapy perspective, which is empowering. Then in cases where there are options, patients will know what option is most suited to their individual goals and preferences.