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A Patient’s Perspective | Participating in a Clinical Trial

A Patient’s Perspective | Participating in a Clinical Trial from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Colorectal cancer survivor Cindi Terwoord recounts her clinical trial experience and explains why she believes patients should consider trial participation.

Dr. Pauline Funchain is a medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Funchain serves as Director of the Melanoma Oncology Program, co-Director of the Comprehensive Melanoma Program, and is also Director of the Genomics Program at the Taussig Cancer Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Funchain, here.

Cindi Terwoord is a colorectal cancer survivor and patient advocate. Learn more about Cindi, here.

See More from Clinical Trials 101

Related Resources:

A Patient Shares Her Clinical Trial Experience

If I Participate in a Clinical Trial, Will I Be a Guinea Pig?

Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?


Transcript:

Katherine Banwell:    

Cindi, you were diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer, and decided to participate in a clinic trial. Can you tell us about what it was like when you were diagnosed?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Yeah. That was in September of 2019, and I had had some problems; bloody diarrhea one evening, and then the next morning the same thing. So, I called my husband at work, I said, “Things aren’t looking right. I think I’d better go to the emergency room.”

And so, we went there, they took blood work – so I think they knew something was going on – and said, “We’re going to keep you for observation.” So, then I knew it must’ve been something bad. And so, two days later, then I had a colonoscopy, and that’s when they found the tumor, and so that was the beginning of my journey.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Had you had a colonoscopy before, or was that your first one?

Cindi Terwoord:        

No, I had screenings, I would get screenings. I had heard a lot of bad things about colonoscopies, and complications and that, so I was always very leery of doing that. Shame on me. I go for my other screenings, but I didn’t like to do that one. I have those down pat now, I’m very good at those.

Katherine Banwell:    

Yeah, I’m sure you do. So, Cindi, what helped guide your decision to join a clinical trial?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Well, I have a friend – it was very interesting.

He was probably one of the first people we told, because he had all sorts of cancer, and he was, I believe, one of the first patients in the nation to take part in this trial. It’s nivolumab (Opdivo), and he’s been on it for about seven years. And he had had various cancers would crop up, but it was keeping him alive.

And so, frankly, I didn’t know I was going to have the option of a trial, but he told me run straight to Cleveland Clinic, it’s one of the best hospitals. So, I took his advice. And the first day the doctor walked in, and then all these people walked in, and I’m like, “Why do I have so many people in here?” Not just a doctor and a nurse. There was like a whole – this is interesting.

And so, then they said, “Well, we have something to offer you. And we have this immunotherapy trial, and you would be one of the first patients to try this.”

Now, when they said first patient, I’m not quite sure if they meant the first colon cancer patient, I’m not sure. But they told me the name of it, and I said, “I’m in. I’m in.” Because I knew my friend had survived all these years, and I thought, “Well, I’ve gotten the worst diagnosis I can have, what do I have to lose?” So, I said, “I’m on board, I’m on board.”

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. Did you have any hesitations?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Nope. No, I’m an optimistic person, and what they assured me was that I could drop out at any time, which I liked that option.

Because I go, “Well, if I’m not feeling well, and it’s not working, I’ll get out.” So, I liked that part of it. I also liked, as Dr. Funchain had said, you go in for more visits. And I like being closely monitored, I felt that was very good.

I’ve always kept very good track of my health. I get my records, I get my office notes from my doctor. I’m one of those people. I probably know the results of blood tests before the doctor does because I’m looking them up. So, I felt very confident in their care. They watched me like a hawk. I kept a diary because they were asking me so many questions.

Katherine Banwell:    

Oh, good for you.

Cindi Terwoord:        

I’m a transcriptionist, so I just typed out all my notes, and I’d hand it to them.

Katherine Banwell:    

That’s a great idea.

Cindi Terwoord:        

Here’s how I’m feeling, here’s…And I was very lucky I didn’t have many side effects.

Katherine Banwell:    

In your conversations with your doctor, did you weigh the pros and cons about joining a trial? Or had you already made up your mind that yes, indeed, you were going for it?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Yeah, I already said, “I’m in, I’m in.” Like I said, it had kept my friend alive for these many years, he’s still on it, and I had no hesitation whatsoever.

I wish more people – I wanted to get out there and talk to every patient in the waiting room and say, “Do it, do it.”

I mean, you can’t start chemotherapy then get in the trial. And if I ever hear of someone that has cancer, I ask them, “Well, were you given the option to get into a trial?” Well, and then some of them had started the chemo before they even thought of that.

Katherine Banwell:    

Mm-hmm. So, how are you doing now, Cindi? How are you feeling?

Cindi Terwoord:        

Good, good, I’m doing fantastic, thank goodness, and staying healthy. I’m big into herbal supplements, always was, so I keep those up, and I’m exercising. I’m pretty much back to normal –

Katherine Banwell:

Cindi, what advice do you have for patients who may be considering participating in a trial? 

Cindi Terwoord:

Do it. Like I said, I don’t see any downside to it. You want to get better as quickly as possible, and this could help accelerate your recovery. And everything Dr. Funchain mentioned, as far as – I really never brought up any questions about whether it would be covered. 

And then somewhere along the line, one of the research people said, “Well, anything the trial research group needs done – like the blood draws – that’s not charged to your insurance.” So, that was nice, that was very encouraging, because I think everybody’s afraid your insurance is going to drop you or something.  

And then the first day I was in there for treatment, a social worker came in, and they talked to you. “Do you need financial help? We also have art therapy, music therapy,” so that was very helpful. I mean, she came in and said, “I’m a social worker,” and I’m like, “Oh, okay. I didn’t know somebody was coming in here to talk to me.” 

But that was all very helpful, and I did get free parking for a few weeks. I mean, sometimes I’d have to remind them. I’d say, “It’s costing me more to park than to get treated.” But, yeah, like I said, I’m a big advocate for it, because you hear so many positive outcomes from immunotherapy trials, and boy, I’d say if you’re a candidate, do it. 

Katherine Banwell:

Dr. Funchain, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to leave the audience with? 

Dr. Pauline Funchain:

First, Cindi, I have to say thank you. I say thank you to every clinical trial participant, everybody who participates in the science. Because honestly, whether you give blood, or you try a new drug, I think people don’t understand how many other lives they touch when they do that.  

It’s really incredible. Coming into clinic day in and day out, we get to see – I mean, really, even within a year or two years, there are people that we’ve seen on clinical trial that we’re now treating normally, standardly, insurance is paying for it, it’s all standard of care. And those are even the people we can see, and there are so many people we can’t see in other centers all over the world, and people who will go on after us, right?  

 So, it’s an amazing – I wouldn’t even consider most of the time that it’s a personal sacrifice. There are a couple more visits and things like that, but it is an incredible gift that people do, in terms of getting trials. And then for some of those trials, people have some amazing results. 

And so, just the opportunity to have patients get an outcome that wouldn’t have existed without that trial, like Cindi, is incredible, incredible. 

Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs)

Patient Assistance Programs: A Guide for Patients

Cancer is costly. Each year, it costs $180 billion in health care expenses and loss of productivity, says the American Cancer Society. For individuals, it is the life-saving medications they need that can cost the most. According to cancer.gov, 90 percent of Americans say that cancer drugs are too expensive, and the prices have been steadily increasing for the last twenty years. Some cancer drugs debut on the market at a cost of more than $100,000 per patient per year, some for as much as $400,000. With this type of pricing, even insured patients can be facing out-of-pocket expenses in the tens of thousands.

When patients can’t afford their medications, it can lead to people taking them in lower doses or skipping them altogether, and that can lead to serious consequences, such as shortened survival times. High-cost medications can also lead to financial ruin for some patients. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patient James Miller, whose copay for his experimental and life-saving medication is “outrageously expensive” at $790 a month, says that, medications could eventually bankrupt people, especially if the medications are a patient’s only option for survival.

It’s literally a matter of life or death for patients like Miller to find funding solutions for their cancer drugs. Luckily for him, his medication is covered through the manufacturer’s Patient Assistance Program. Drug manufactures created Patient Assistant Programs, commonly known as PAPs, to provide qualifying patients with free or discounted medications.

While just about every manufacturer has an assistance program, one of the first manufacturers to offer a PAP was AstraZeneca. Company representative Colleen Kempf says, AstraZeneca began offering patient assistance over 40 years ago. The program now covers the company’s marketed medicines, and Kempf says, in the past ten years, the company has helped over 4 million patients with access to medications. “Our programs are driven by our corporate value in putting patients first. We believe that we have a role to play to support patients, and since 2005 have expressed this commitment in a very public way through our advertising.” Their PAP slogan, “If you can’t afford your medications, AstraZeneca may be able to help,” might be familiar to many as it is frequently heard at the end of its television adds and leads patients to its website which is where most PAP information can be found.

Find a PAP

The most important thing to know about PAPs is that they are available. They all vary a bit and have different names, but chances are, your drug’s manufacturer has one. AstraZeneca’s is called AZ&ME. Genentech, the manufacturer of the medication Miller takes for his CLL, calls its program Genentech Access. Celgene refers to its as Patient Support, and Takeda refers to its as Help at Hand.

Once you know assistance is available, it’s fairly easy to find it. All it takes is an online search of the name of the drug, coupled with the words “patient assistance program”, and you should be well on your way to the application process.

John Rosenguard, a multiple myeloma patient, learned about PAPs while doing research about insurance carriers. In addition, Celgene, the manufacturer of his medication, led him to its assistance program through an online risk management survey he was required to take when he was prescribed the medication.

NeedyMeds

There are also websites specifically designed to help patients find assistance. Non-profit website needymeds.org was formed in 1997 with the intent of helping patients navigate PAPs.

While it may seem like the best place to learn about PAPs is the internet, patients and drug companies both recommend you include talking to your healthcare provider about options. Miller learned about the Genentech PAP he uses through his doctor who put him in touch with a specialty pharmacy who provided him with a PAP application. Miller says he would not have known about the PAP on his own, but that without it he would “go broke”. He advises other patients to ask their treating physicians about options. “Any doctor prescribing an experimental drug like that will have a relationship with a specialty pharmacy,” he says.

Miller’s advice is good, but most people don’t seem to be following it, according to cancer.gov, which reports that only 27 percent of cancer patients, and less than half of oncologists, say that they have had cost-related discussions. But, nearly 66 percent of the patients say they want to talk to their doctors about costs. They should.

AstraZeneca’s Kempf says the company ensures that healthcare providers, patients, and patient groups are made aware of its AZ&ME assistance program. “As with any type of information or program, providers will have different levels of understanding regarding available PAP programs,” says Kempf. “The AZ&ME program works closely with healthcare provider offices on applications at their request and we’ve also seen some offices support their patients by assisting with the enrollment process for their patients.”

PAP Enrollment

Each company has a different process for enrolling in its PAP. Some applications require extensive financial information, while others require basic information; Some require doctors to fill out a portion of the application, while others only need a signed prescription. Miller says for the Genentech enrollment process, he had to provide his financial information and that the application had two or three pages for his doctor to fill out. Rosenguard says the Celgene application process was extremely simple and that it took about two weeks for him to be accepted into the program.

The best way to know what the enrollment process is for the manufacturer of your medication is to go to the company website. The websites are easy and straightforward for patients to navigate. For example, the Celgene Patient Support site has large buttons that say “Enroll now” and “Financial Help”. The words are in big, bold type, and each step is written in clear language. The site also provides a phone number, email, and fax information. There is an option to download the application form if you prefer to print it and fill it out by hand. The steps you will take are listed clearly, and what you need to include with the application is listed clearly. The process was easy and efficient, says Rosenguard.

 

Most applicants shouldn’t require any assistance beyond what the manufacturers can provide on their websites or by phone, but there are some businesses who will help patients complete the enrollment process for a fee. The prices vary, as does the quality of service.

PAP Qualification

Not all patients will qualify for assistance. While each program has its own qualifying criteria, and there may be different requirements for different medications produced by the same manufacturer, in general, to qualify for a PAP, a patient must:

  • Have very limited or no drug coverage from public or private sources
  • Must demonstrate a financial need based on a set income and assets
  • Provide proof of US residence or citizenship.

“The AZ&ME program is intended to serve patients most in need and has income eligibility criteria that speak to this design,” says Kempf. “The program primarily serves patients that have no insurance coverage or patients that face affordability challenges with their Medicare cost-sharing requirements.”

In addition, the amount of assistance a patient receives and the length of time each patient can stay on the program varies. AZ&ME patients without insurance are required to reenroll in the program annually, and Medicare patients are required to reenroll at the start of each calendar year.

“It is important for patients to understand the eligibility requirements as well as the documentation requirements that are typically associated with applications,” says Kempf. “Ensuring that the application is filled out, complete, and submitted with the required documents, helps ensure an easy enrollment process.”

PAP Basics

Once accepted into the program, both Miller and Rosenguard say that there is not much of a time commitment from them. They both receive their medication through a specialty pharmacy. Miller says his is delivered to his door each month, and Rosenguard says he is able to refill his prescription online, and also has a monthly follow up phone call with the pharmacy. In addition, Rosenguard is required to follow risk management guidelines to participate in the Celgene PAP. Guidelines, as specified by Celgene include, following safe sex practices, not donating blood, and monitoring cuts with blood loss.

AstraZeneca also uses a central pharmacy to dispense its medications to patients, says Kempf. “All medications are dispensed by a pharmacy and are sent directly to the patient’s home unless it is a medication that requires in-office administration by the physician. In office administration products are sent directly to the healthcare practitioner,” she says.

Are PAPs Worth It?

For patients struggling to pay for their medications PAPs may be the only option, and the pharmaceutical companies seem committed to providing the service. Kempf says that at AstraZeneca, they are always evaluating patient feedback to see how they can better serve patients, including streamlining the application process.

Rosenguard recommends the PAP programs. He says, co-pays, like his that were $200 a month per medication, can add up quickly. “The benefits were noticeable and met my needs to control costs over the long term,” says Rosenguard. “Plus, it educated me to help others (employees, support group members, friends) who might need this information in the future.”