What is the chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patient’s role in making treatment decisions? Dr. Jennifer Woyach explains frontline CLL therapies and how patients help guide the treatment decision that’s best for them.
Dr. Jennifer Woyach is a hematologist-oncologist specializing in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital & Solove Research Institute. Find out more about this expert here.
Dr. Woyach, what do you feel is the patient’s role in this conversation about treatment approaches?
I think that, obviously, the patient is the most important part of the talk of treatment indications. Like I mentioned, sometimes we have the discussion of chemotherapy versus a targeted therapy. More often, the discussion is we have three approved frontline CLL therapies right now. We have two BTK inhibitors or Bruton’s tyrosine kinase inhibitors, ibrutinib, acalabrutinib.
And then, we have a BCL-2, venetoclax, that’s given in combination with an antibody called obinutuzumab. These are very different treatments in terms of side effect profiles, how they’re administered, how often they’re administered, just as an example. The BTK inhibitors are pills. And they’re meant to be given indefinitely. So, you start them with plans that you’re not going to stop them, unless the patient doesn’t tolerate them or they stop working. And so, with that type of regimen, you have the kind of burden of being on treatment for a long period of time.
But on the flipside, it’s very easy to start treatment. So, if you decide you want a BTK inhibitor, I write a prescription for it, it comes to your house, you start it. I usually see patients monthly for the first six months and then, we go to every three months. It’s very easy to start treatment.
The other type of treatment, the venetoclax plus with the obinutuzumab regimen, that’s the BCL-2 inhibitor with an antibody, it’s a finite therapy. So, people are treated for a year and then, they go off treatment. The flipside of that is they’re a lot more time intensive in the beginning. So, you have the IV therapy with the obinutuzumab. Venetoclax you, actually, have to ramp up the dose so patients have to come in weekly for the first five weeks, and they have to come in monthly for their infusions. So, it’s much more time intensive up front but then, you get to stop treatment. And so, those are considerations that I can’t answer for somebody.
I don’t know which one people would prefer and people prefer different things. So, we spend a lot of time talking about all of the different scenarios and what’s going to make the therapy work best for the patient.
Though some with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may have limited access to clinical trials at expert centers, telemedicine may change access for some patients. Watch as Dr. John Pagel shares how telemedicine might improve CLL clinical trial options.
Will Telemedicine Activate More Remote Tools to Manage CLL?
There is a lot of attention being paid to clinical trials and progress, and so how might telemedicine impact clinical trials when it comes to CLL therapy?
Dr. John Pagel:
Well, I want to first tell the audience that clinical trials are critically important for many patients who have CLL. Clinical trials are really an opportunity to get something that’s better than the standard of care most often, or at least just as good and has the promise again, to be better. We have advanced major new paradigm changing therapies over the last many years through clinical trials, and now we’re looking at really exciting things like bispecific antibodies, newer generations of these targeted therapies that are better tolerated and perhaps even more active in resistant patients. And even as we talked about CAR T-cell therapies, those are all only available through clinical trials, and then that’ll continue to evolve and go on as well.
I would encourage patients to think about clinical trials, and because of telemedicine, now we’re going to be able to reach to other patients who are further away from an expert, perhaps where clinical trials are only available, and they can be then involved in one of those opportunities. Telemedicine, I hope, and I believe, will be a major advance for getting the cutting-edge, best therapies for patients who might be very far away from a very important expert center.
As telemedicine has grown in the management of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) care, will its use bring other remote tools into patient care? Watch as CLL expert Dr. John Pagel explains.
Dr. Pagel, there are tools out there like video otoscopes, electronic stethoscopes, thermoscopes, retinal imaging systems, will CLL patients be able to have access to those tools for themselves one day, and on that note, what are the tools you believe will impact the future of CLL care?
Dr. John Pagel:
Yeah, in fact, that’s really where we’re going. We do stuff like that already through the hospital. As you may know, as an example, if someone comes in with a cardiac condition, they need to be monitored remotely, they can’t stay in the hospital indefinitely we need to kind of know what’s happening, perhaps as an example with their heart rhythm. So they actually have tools where they can wear a little monitor even on their wrist that communicates with the doctor. So the doctor can see even in real time what’s happening with that individual patient.
These types of tools are the future, and we’re not going away from them, we’re embracing them. We’re not there yet for routine standard care, especially in CLL but they will be simple things like heart rate, blood pressure measurements that are very simple and easy to do that not only are able to be read by the patient, but actually again, from a remote standpoint, be electronically downloaded and delivered to the physician, real time. That’s going to be important. And actually, I believe that we’ll even add advances for that in the blood work or other approaches in the near future. So just stay tuned we’re just scratching the surface there.
Okay, so you’ve heard it here first from Dr. Pagel, stay tuned on this.
Gerri Smoluk is an AML survivor, diagnosed at age 56 in 2016. She is currently in remission following successful completion of two rounds of induction therapy and four rounds of consolidation therapy (high-dose chemo) in 2016. Since her recovery Gerri has been exploring “pretirement” working part-time as a freelance medical writer, traveling, volunteering and exploring what she wants to do in the next phase of her life. Gerri spent most of her career as a drug development scientist. Full bio here >>