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CLL Treatment Advances: What Do You Need to Know?

CLL Treatment Advances: What Do You Need to Know? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Matthew Davids reviews promising chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) research and shares online resources for patients to stay informed as treatments develop.

Dr. Matthew Davids is the Associate Director of the CLL Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More about this expert.

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Transcript:

Dr. Matthew Davids

So, this remains a very exciting time for CLL research. The last several years have witnessed the development of a number of these novel agent-based approaches, these oral drugs that target the different pathways inside the CLL cell that the cell survives with.

And so, we’ve really kind of reached the end of the beginning, as I call it, because the first goal, of course, was developing each one of these novel agent drugs on its own. We had to show first that they were safe and figure out what the dose was for patients, and then figure out that they’re effective on their own. And we’ve kind of checked those boxes at this point and reached a point where we have now several different novel agents that are FDA approved already for CLL patients.

And so, I think the big research challenge now going forward is kind of twofold. One is identifying the best combinations of these drugs to put together. And No. 2, identifying which patients will benefit most from which specific combinations.

And so, there’s a number of different clinical trials going on right now looking at these questions.

And just kind of highlighting some of them, one of them is the study of venetoclax with obinutuzumab that I mentioned before. We just had a pretty early readout from this study. But I think it’s gonna be very important to see how patients do over time after they finish the one year of therapy, and both for this study as well as another study called MURANO, which looked at the patients who had already had prior chemotherapy-based regimens and then received venetoclax, in this case with rituximab.

In both cases, when there’s time-limited therapy, I think a key research question is gonna be, when those patients do have progression of the CLL – hopefully years later – do they respond again to that same treatment? Can you use venetoclax again? And do the patients respond nicely? And if they do, then that could be a very nice intermittent treatment strategy to allow patients to be off therapy for a period of time, and then only to receive additional treatment when they need it.

I think another important and exciting area is the combination approaches. And I’ve talked about both ibrutinib and venetoclax as probably two of our most promising new drugs. And so, there are now a number of different studies exploring the combination of ibrutinib plus venetoclax given at the same time. And some of the initial data that’s been published looks very promising. This is a very well tolerated and highly effective combination in the initial studies. It’s all oral, which is nice. So, it’s just pills without the need for any infusions. And again, it’s designed to, hopefully, be a time-limited regimen, and patients hopefully will have a nice durable response after an initial treatment with these two drugs.

There are certainly a number of other drugs that are very promising as well. There’s a whole class that we haven’t talked about yet called PI3 kinase inhibitor drugs. We have two such drugs currently approved now for CLL patients, idelalisib and duvelisib. These drugs also are very effective for treating CLL but tend to have more side effects when they’re given as the first therapy. So, most patients will start with a different therapy. But then the PI3 kinase drugs can be a great option for patients who are in the relapse setting after they’ve had prior treatments.

And there’s another one in development called umbralisib, which also looks very promising and seems to perhaps be even the safest of these PI3 kinase inhibitor drugs. And that’s not yet FDA approved. But we anticipate it’s likely gonna get an approval relatively soon.

And so, combining these new PI3 kinase drugs also with venetoclax is an area of research interest, and a number of other combinations. As you can imagine, the longer the list grows of drugs, the more different combinations we can explore. And we’re trying to use the science from the laboratory to try to determine ahead of time what we think are the most promising strategies because we can’t do clinical trials of every single combination. But those are some of the sort of novel agent studies that I’m excited about right now.

I think the other area that could prove to be very helpful for our CLL patients is CAR T-cell therapy, which stands for chimeric antigen receptor T-cells. CAR T-cell therapy is a way to harness the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

So, to do this, we would take cells out from a patient. And these are T lymphocyte cells. So, not the CLL cells, but a normal immune cell called a T lymphocyte. And then the cells get educated outside the body to recognize CLL cells more effectively. And they’re grown up and expanded and then reinfused into a patient, where they can go around and kill CLL cells. This can be a very effective treatment and can lead to complete remissions with durability.

And this approach is now in clinical trials. There are some risks to CAR T-cell based therapy. Something called cytokine release syndrome, where patients can get very sick, almost like they have a severe infection, but they don’t have an infection. There’s some neurologic risks to this as well that can be quite scary if they happen but in almost all cases are reversible. So, I think that this is an interesting area of research right now. It’s certainly not yet approved by the FDA for CLL. But we hope that, over time, as the CAR T-cell therapy becomes more effective and has fewer side effects, that eventually it will become a therapy option for patients who have had prior treatments for their CLL.

So, I think despite the fact that we’ve made a lot of advances in the last few years, we still have a lot of work to do in the research area to try to improve our treatments even further for our CLL patients.

So, in terms of how patients can stay informed about all these developments, it frankly is quite challenging, even for us in the field, to keep up with all of this. But there are some resources that can help. The first thing I would say is that the research tends to come along in fits and spurts, and one of the fits is generally the big research meetings where we all gather together to present our new data.

And probably the biggest highlight of the year is the ASH meeting, American Society of Hematology, which is usually in early December. That’s a good time to start looking on the internet for news about CLL, latest treatments, those sorts of things. Often, it’s kind of early December where we first hear about these breaking stories.

Another meeting that’s become big over the last few years is the European Hematology Association, which usually takes place in mid-June. And that’s, again, another time when we often see new data coming about. And one area where I would say this could be very helpful – or one website that I think is helpful – is the CLL Society website. This is led by Brian Koffman, who himself is a CLL patient.

And he kind of collates a lot of the information from these meetings and puts them in one place on his website. He’ll often interview CLL specialists to get their opinion about some of the newest developments. And so, I think Brian’s webpage, CLLSociety.org, can really be a great resource for getting up to date on the latest data.

There certainly are other websites out there now as well which are helpful. For example, another one that I’m working with closely is called VJHemOnc. And VJHemOnc comes to these big meetings, again, interviews a lot of the experts on their takes on the new data.

And I find that this platform in particular, the video-based platform, can be very engaging. It really forces us, as the investigators, to kind of hone down on what the most important key points are and give little snippets about that. And I would think that would be easier for our patients, in many cases, to digest, compared to some of the original papers themselves, which can be quite dense.

So, those would be my major resources that I’d recommend for CLL patients who are looking for additional information on the latest research.

CLL Treatment Decisions: What Path is Best for YOU?

CLL Treatment Decisions: What Path is Best for YOU? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Dr. Matthew Davids discusses factors that can impact a chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patient’s treatment course, including genetic testing results, age and co-existing conditions. Want to Learn More? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

Dr. Matthew Davids is the Associate Director of the CLL Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More about this expert.

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Transcript:

Dr. Matthew Davids

So, there are a number of different factors that go into the decision of which of these regimens to choose for the initial therapy of CLL. One of them is certainly the age and fitness level of the patient and what other medical issues they have. So, as patients get above the age 65, they typically may have other medical issues and may not tolerate more aggressive chemoimmunotherapy-based regimens like FCR. But they could certainly tolerate the novel agent regimens like ibrutinib or venetoclax plus obinutuzumab.

Another consideration that comes into play is the biology of the CLL cells themselves. Some patients with CLL have a higher risk form of the disease. We call this either deletion 17p or TP53 mutation. And those patients typically do not benefit as much from chemoimmunotherapy.

So, even younger patients there, we think about a novel agent-based approach. And we have, again, the longest-term data on ibrutinib for that population, although venetoclax plus obinutuzumab is also a consideration.

And then as we think about debating between these different options, we also think about the specific other medical issues that a patient may have. So, ibrutinib does have some risks in terms of atrial fibrillation, which is an abnormal heart rhythm. It can cause patients to be a bit more prone to bleeding or bruising. And so, for patients who have these existing risks, if they have heart disease already, or if they’ve had issues with bleeding recently, ibrutinib may not be the best option, and venetoclax plus obinutuzumab would be appealing for a patient like that.

Now, with venetoclax and obinutuzumab, it can be such a potent regimen that it can break the tumor cells open too quickly. This is something we call tumor lysis syndrome. It’s not something we’ve seen commonly with this regimen. But we do watch patients very closely when they’re first dosing.And so, for example, patients who have poor kidney function might be at a higher risk for this side effect. And those might be patients, again, where we think about ibrutinib as a very good option, since it’s very well tolerated even by patients who have issues with their kidneys.

So, those are some of the factors that go into it. Certainly, patient preference makes a big difference. Some patients don’t mind the idea of going on a pill, and they like the idea that it’ll control their disease in the long term. And so there, a therapy like ibrutinib may make a lot of sense. Other patients may find that they prefer what we call a time-limited strategy. And using the venetoclax plus obinutuzumab makes a lot of sense there because it’s a one-year regimen, and they can stop. But we don’t know yet the durability of those effects. So, those are some of the factors that go into making this important decision as to what to receive for a first therapy.

I think patients have an increasingly large role in making treatment decisions about what they would like to receive, especially for their first therapy for CLL. It used to be that we had very limited treatment options for CLL, and really the only choice was chemotherapy. And so, that was a pretty easy choice if you had no other options.

So now, as I’ve highlighted, we have multiple different choices. We have chemotherapy-based approaches. We have novel agent approaches, both continuous and time limited. And so, I think it’s helpful for patients to educate themselves about the pros and cons of these different options, to get input from a CLL specialist, if possible, and certainly from their oncologist as well as family members and friends, particularly if they have had friends who’ve gone through this. Getting their advice can be helpful.

And reaching out to online supports as well can be a useful thing in terms of educating oneself. And at the end of the day, the patient has to make the decision as to what they think is best for them.

And it might be a different decision for each individual patient. But the good news for patients, even though it can be challenging to make this decision, all of these options are good ones. And so, there isn’t really a wrong decision here. But there may be some that are better suited for individual patients based on their own preferences.

CLL Treatment Options: What’s Available NOW?

CLL Treatment Options: What’s Available NOW? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Matthew Davids reviews current chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment approaches and discusses the role of watch and wait.

Dr. Matthew Davids is the Associate Director of the CLL Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More about this expert.

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Transcript:

Dr. Matthew Davids:   So, we’re very fortunate in CLL that we have a number of very effective treatment options. But I would like to start by highlighting the fact that, for the majority of CLL patients when they’re first diagnosed, a watch and wait or observation strategy is generally preferred.

And this goes back to many years of research showing that there’s no survival advantage to starting early with chemotherapy-based approaches.

And we have some recent data with the newer drugs that, even with these better agents in terms of the tolerability, that early intervention strategies still probably don’t make a difference for our patients and are associated still with side effects and risks. So, the first important thing is to understand that it’s okay to be observed and go on to this watch and wait strategy, and that many patients can stay on this type of approach for many years.

However, once treatment is indicated, we do have a number of therapy options for CLL patients. And these go back to chemotherapy-based approaches, which have been around for quite a while now and now include some newer drugs that we call novel agents that are really transforming how we manage the disease. So, for younger, fitter patients, we can still think about chemoimmunotherapy, and in particular a regimen called FCR, which includes two chemotherapy drugs, fludarabine and cyclophosphamide, and a third drug which is an antibody called rituximab.

And this combination works very well, in particular for patients who are very fit and can tolerate it and remains a viable option. An advantage of this approach is that it’s time limited. It’s a six-month course. But there are some significant side effects from chemotherapy and some longer-term risks. And so, it’s something that we think carefully about before we recommend.

We really think about the novel agents now as being a good option for most of our patients with CLL. And these novel agents are typically pills that, in general, tend to be well tolerated, although each one has its unique risks and potential side effects. We’ve been using the drug ibrutinib now for a few years for the initial treatment of CLL. And this drug targets one of the pathways in the CLL that the cell relies on for its survival. And it’s a drug that patients take once per day. And once they start on it, they usually continue on it for a long period of time. We’ve had patients on this drug up to seven or eight years now who continue to do well.

Ibrutinib doesn’t tend to completely eradicate the CLL. But it often gets patients into very good remissions. And if they tolerate the drug well, then they can stay on it long term and control the disease. But typically, the drug is given as a continuous therapy. So, we don’t have as much experience with stopping it at this point. And so, that’s typically how we recommend giving it, is as a continuous drug.

Now, another new option for the initial therapy of CLL patients is called venetoclax, which is another pill that we have had a lot of experience with over the last few years in clinical trials. It was approved for patients who had previously had treatment for CLL for the last three years or so. And then just recently, the FDA gave approval to venetoclax as a first therapy for CLL patients. And we typically give this in combination with a different antibody drug called obinutuzumab, which is given intravenously.

So, this regimen, which we call venetoclax plus obinutuzumab, is typically given for a six-month combination course, followed by about six additional months of venetoclax pills. And then patients stop therapy at that point.

So, one of the advantages of this approach is that, like the chemotherapy, it’s a time-limited approach for one year. And we can often see very deep remissions that allow patients to remain off therapy for a period of time afterwards.

One of the issues so far is just that we don’t have as long-term follow up as we do with ibrutinib. So, we don’t know what’s gonna happen to these patients seven or eight years after they’ve started venetoclax plus obinutuzumab. We certainly hope that this one year of therapy provides a durable response for patients, and it certainly looks promising in that regard so far. But we currently have more long-term experience with ibrutinib as an initial treatment.

So, these are kind of the main options that we think about for patients who need their first therapy for CLL. We always think about observation first. But when patients do need treatment, we move toward either a chemoimmunotherapy-based approach with a regimen like FCR, or ibrutinib, or venetoclax plus obinutuzumab. And so, it’s great to have all these very valuable and effective options for our patients.

You’re Not a Guinea Pig: Understanding Clinical Trial Participation

You’re Not a Guinea Pig: Understanding Clinical Trial Participation from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

“Will I be a guinea pig if I participate in a clinical trial?” CLL expert Dr. Brian Hill explains the clinical trial process and addresses common patient fears and misconceptions.

Dr. Brian Hill is the Director of the Lymphoid Malignancies Program at Cleveland Clinic. More about this expert.

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Transcript:

Dr. Brian Hill:

So, one of the first questions many people ask about being a clinical trial participant is, “Am I a guinea pig?” And what I would say is we’re always practicing medicine. Anything we do, we’re practicing.

But we are always trying to get better whether it’s formally on a trial or not. In terms of side effects of treatment, no matter what – if we have the treatment available, any medication can potentially cause side effects. And it’s very difficult to predict. So, even if you are not on a clinical trial, you could be treated with a standard therapy and potentially have problems or difficulty with it. In terms of clinical trials, it depends where in the sort of journey you are in. If you have never been treated before and now you need to be treated, there are trials that are appropriate for people who are at their first line of treatment.

And this is not typically where we are experimenting with new drugs. So, this is typically where we have established treatments or just sort of trying to compare which one is better. Sometimes these are randomized.

So, there’s a flip of a coin, and you can be assigned to one or another. And I understand why many patients may not want to have their treatment determined by chance. But I would keep in mind that usually if this is being done, it’s been vetted through not just the institution where they are being treated, but often times through review boards throughout the country who basically say, “We think it’s okay to have a flip of a coin decision here because if we have a great treatment which is A and a great treatment which is B and we really don’t know if A or B is better, it’s okay to sort of have a randomization where you may get A or B.”

Sometimes A is the standard and B is likely to be better, but we don’t really know that B is better. And the only way to get the second option would be to be on the clinical trial. So, in that case if you are enrolled, the “worst” option would be the standard.

But it may give you the option of being even better than the standard. And again, if we knew that the second option was better then it wouldn’t be a clinical trial, it would be our standard.  This is sort of how we make progress. And it requires a buy in from the medical community and physicians, but also, it’s important that patients feel comfortable with it. So, that’s kind of for front line treatment. In terms of subsequent therapies, again there are a lot of very good standard treatments available.

And sometimes there are new drugs that are being developed. If the new drug has never been given before to a human, that’s called a Phase One trial. And typically, those are given or offered to people who have had many other lines of therapy and may not have other good options. But sometimes we know that the new drug has been given to people, it’s safe.

The side effect profile is already known even if it hasn’t been given to large numbers of people. And in those cases that would be something around something often called a Phase Two trial where we know it’s safe, but we’d love to see how well it works. And that’s an option for patients as well.

Right. So, outside of talking with your hematologist/oncologist or CLL specialist, there are many other resources for getting information about CLL. The Lymphoma Research Foundation, The Leukemia Lymphoma Society and the CLL Society are all great organizations that have useful websites.

They have 1-800 numbers you can call into. Many of these groups have – I know the CLL Society has a support group in many cities that’s held on a regular basis. And often times there are patient meetings organized through LLS or LRF, the two groups that I mentioned, that allow patients to come and learn from each other and also ask questions of specialists who may be speaking at those events.

How Can Patients Learn About Developing CLL Research?

How Can Patients Learn About Developing CLL Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Danielle Brander explains why it’s important for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients to stay up-to-date on developing research and treatment news. Dr. Brander also shares resources for learning more about clinical studies.

Dr. Danielle Brander is Director of the CLL and Lymphoma Clinical Research Program at Duke Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Brander here.

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Transcript:

Dr. Brander:

I think it’s very important that patients and their caregivers stay informed and advised of opportunities to participate in ongoing research. I think there’s a misconception that with all the favorable progress in treatment options available for CLL, that there’s no longer the need for clinical research participation.

Though, there are a lot of novel options available for CLL, there’s still a lot of ways that we can improve care for patients. That is, there are trials with the next-generation inhibitors or for patients traditionally with harder to treat CLL or may become resistant to the novel agents, there’s a lot of trials looking into how do you combine the novel agents to give patients the best options. And then a lot of the research, too, are not just in the treatments.

But as our science advances into looking at other markers of the CLL cells, or what we call the depth of response, how much CLL you kill with the treatments and how low of a level we can get in terms of detection. This may result in a situation where patients have the opportunity to receive novel treatments, have a really good response, and then potentially stop the treatments and be followed off of therapies, so have the benefit of novel treatment but not with having to go on an ongoing drug forever and ever.

When I talk to a patient about opportunities for clinical trials, I’m really focused on the patient in front of me. That is, I wouldn’t offer or talk about a trial if I didn’t think it potentially could benefit the patient in front of me.

And again, though we’ve had a lot of advances in treatment options, there are certainly a lot of ways that we can engage and hopefully help patients moving forward. There’s been recent studies across all cancers showing that unfortunately a very low percent of patients are offered and enrolled and participating in clinical research studies, and I think it’s really important that patients know there’s a lot of opportunities out there that potentially could benefit them.

The different ways to be advised and informed, again, are some of the resources online educationally for CLL and lymphoma that often post about different sites for clinical trials. There’s a clinical trials.gov web site that all sites in the United States that are enrolling trials with patients have to log clinical trials, and though that has to be updated, it often can be a good beginning site.

But in the end, hopefully the best resource is your treatment team, your oncologist, and your other team that can help point you to what trials might be eligible for you, either at the location where you are or close by.

The last part I’ll point out is though we focus a lot on the treatment clinical trials, in CLL, where patients don’t always need treatment right away or may have treatment and have a response and then have a long period of time afterward, is that many centers are helping to engage patients in research that is not necessarily done during the time of their treatment. Again, to try to understand why some patients have a longer course until they require treatment, or why they might have responded differently, or other ways we can improve their care.

How is a CLL Treatment Path Determined?

How is a CLL Treatment Path Determined? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Danielle Brander explains the patient-specific factors and disease-specific factors that are taken into consideration when determining a treatment approach for people with CLL.

Dr. Danielle Brander is Director of the CLL and Lymphoma Clinical Research Program at Duke Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Brander See More From the Path to CLL Empowerment


Transcript:

Dr. Brander:

There are several factors to take in consideration when discussing individualized treatment approaches or options for patients.

Broadly, this can be divided into patient-specific factors, and then CLL-specific factors. And what I mean by that is patient’s age, even for patients very fit, we know from clinical trials that there’s a different processing, tolerability, and benefit of certain chemotherapies and a higher risk of certain side effects, even with the novel therapies as patients advance in age.

There are other patient-specific factors such as there are other medical problems. We often call these comorbidities. These are things like cardiovascular or a heart problem history, diabetes, kidney function differences. A lot of those factors play into individualizing when you know different treatment side effects what might be the best option for patients.

In the CLL-specific factors, these are some of the markers and characteristics that we have talked about in terms of FISH testing, TP53 mutation status, and IGHV mutation status. Based on recent clinical trials for patients receiving first treatment, if there are any changes, which historically chemotherapy didn’t treat the CLL for as long as we would have liked, we tend to err towards the novel agents for sure. And even across all markers, there can be a benefit of the newer drugs such as ibrutinib or venetoclax, or many of the other next-generation inhibitors that are in development. But for sure, patients with deletion 17p or TP53 mutation should never receive chemoimmunotherapy.

There’s a lot of research going into understanding what other CLL-specific markers may benefit for one treatment type versus the next. And we hope that all patients could potentially benefit from clinical trials both in the options that are offered as well as some of this other testing, which is how do you determine which markers are important for patients in the era of the drugs that we have today.