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What Should Patients Know About DLBCL Treatment and Research?

What Should Patients Know About DLBCL Treatment and Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) patients feel empowered to participate in their treatment and care decisions? Dr. Kami Maddocks reviews current DLBCL therapies, discusses developing research in the field, and shares advice encouraging patients to speak up and become active members of their team.

Dr. Kami Maddocks is a hematologist who specializes in treating patients with B-cell malignancies at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Maddocks, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we are going to talk about diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, known as DLBCL and how you can feel empowered to speak up and be a partner in your care. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice.

Please refer to your health care team about what might be best for you. Well, joining us today is Dr. Kami Maddocks. Dr. Maddocks, welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Maddocks:

Thank you. I’m Kami Maddocks. I’m a lymphoma doctor at the Ohio State University James Comprehensive Cancer Program.

Katherine:

Excellent. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Dr. Maddocks:

Thank you for having me.

Katherine:

Well, since the goal of this webinar is to help our viewers feel empowered in their care, in your opinion, what does it mean to be an empowered patient?

Dr. Maddocks:

I think an empowered patient is invested in their health and in their medical care. This can look like different things for different patients but I think being educated about their disease, being invested in decision making, along with their providers, and then being invested in the outcomes of their treatment and their disease.

Katherine:

What do you feel is the patient’s role in their care?

Dr. Maddocks:

I think it’s important that the patient partners with their care providers and their family, while they’re going through treatment for any condition. So, I think the most important thing is that the patient is comfortable with their care. And I think that includes being educated on their disease process. For some patients, this is going to be doing some of their own research, for some patients, this is going to be really relying and trusting in what their physician and care provider say, and for some patients, this is going to include other information that they seek out after they get the information from their care provider.

Katherine:

How do you empower patients?

Dr. Maddocks:

When I first meet a patient, I schedule a large block of time to spend with the patient, and I like to explain to the patient their new diagnosis. Or, if it’s not a new diagnosis, what I know about their disease, try to understand if they understand what I’m explaining, and what they know before coming to see me.

If there are treatment options, discuss those and go over those and make sure that I ask them to repeat or go over what they understand, from what I’ve explained from that. And then, making sure that they’re comfortable with available options outside of that. So, are there clinical trials available? Should they be seeking second opinions? Where is it best for them to get those second opinions? And then, ensuring that we have open lines of communications, so they have ways to contact me or my office. Making sure that they’re comfortable following up with questions that come in throughout the disease treatment and process. Ensuring that they know to contact us if there are changes or concerns so that we can address things in real time.

Katherine:

Yeah. That’s great advice, Dr. Maddocks. Thank you. Now, let’s learn more about DLBCL. For those who may be newly diagnosed, what is it?

Dr. Maddocks:

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So, this is considered a blood cancer. Lymphomas are a cancer of the lymphocyte, which is one of the types of blood cells that form your immune system. So, when you think about your nodes, these are part of the cells that help fight different types of infection. So, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is one of the types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, it’s aggressive, and it is considered an aggressive form of lymphoma. And it’s when you get a cancer of those lymph cells that often involved the lymph nodes but could also involve bone marrow, blood cells, other sites outside of the lymph nodes.

Katherine:

Do we know what causes DLBCL?

Dr. Maddocks:

For the most part, we don’t know what causes diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. So, most of the time, it’s going to arise with patients not having risk factors. We know that age is the most common risk factor with the median diagnosis of a patient in their 60s.

Although, we also know that diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, why it’s more common to be diagnosed later in life, can occur across all the age spectrum. So, you see this in pediatric adolescents, young adults, and older adults. There are some causes. These represent more than minority of cases but certain viruses, including HIV virus, can be associated with the development of lymphoma. Certain other medical conditions, like rheumatologic conditions and some of the treatments for these, can be associated, and then, some chemical exposures. But in general, most of the time, we’re not going to have an identified cause.

Katherine:

What are the symptoms?

Dr. Maddocks:

They can look a little bit different for different patients. So, because this is often a cancer, most of the time there will be lymph node involvement. For some patients, they can actually feel or somebody will see a lymph node that grows. Most of the time, when this occurs, it’s going to be in the neck, under the armpits, or in the groin area.

Patients can start to have symptoms from other sites, of those lymph nodes growing or disease so that they can get pain or shortness of breath. Or they can have what’s called B symptoms. So, B symptoms are inflammatory like symptoms from the lymphoma, and these include weight loss. So, a rapid change in weight for no reason. Night sweats. So, daily night sweats, we call them drenching night sweats. They wake up the patient, they soak their clothes, sometimes they soak the whole bed. And then, fatigue. So, extreme fatigue, not able to do your daily activities. And then, occasional people will have cyclical fevers.

Katherine:

Are there different types of DLBCL?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, in general, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, there’s one major subtype. You can divide it into different pathological or molecular subtypes.

So, where the cell develops lymphoma during the cell’s development, there are different chromosome abnormalities. So, there are different categorizations but in general, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma itself is considered – it’s treated, often, the same even with these different subtypes. So, there are different subtypes but in general, they’re all considered a form of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Katherine:

They’re under this umbrella of DLBCL.

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. Yeah.

Katherine:

Yeah. Do patients usually get diagnosed after they experience some symptoms?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, because this is an aggressive lymphoma, there are a lot of patients that will have symptoms with this, and that’s how they’ll present. Via either noticing the lymph nodes, having the B symptoms, or having pain, or other abnormalities from the lymphoma progressing.

Occasionally, whereas indolent lymphoma is more commonly found of incidentally. Occasionally, that’ll be the case with these, but I would say a fair number of patients have some sort of symptom or something that brings them to medical attention.

Katherine:

How does DLBCL progress?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, they’re different, as far as there’s more aggressive and less aggressive. So, some patients can develop symptoms, really, over days to weeks. Whereas, some patients are more weeks to months.

Katherine:

“Okay. Let’s turn to treatment options. Is a person with DLBCL treated right away?”

Dr. Maddocks:

They’re treated pretty quickly after the diagnosis. So, typically, when somebody has a diagnosis, they undergo a number of different tests, including lab work, imaging work, sometimes for their biopsies.

So, that information is gathered over days to sometimes a few weeks process. Then, when you have all that information, you go over the results, go over the treatment at that time. So, it’s typically treated not within, usually, a day of diagnosis but it’s not something that you spend weeks or months before treating.

Katherine:

Yeah. What are the different types of treatments available?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, the diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is treated with chemotherapy and immunotherapy. So, a combination of an immune antibody therapy and chemotherapy. There is a role in some cases for radiation, but never just radiation alone and never just surgery alone. So, there’s always what we call a systemic treatment. So, a treatment that goes everywhere. Because this is considered a blood cancer, it’s a cancer of those cells, it can really spread anywhere.

And so, just cutting it out with surgery or just radiating the area doesn’t treat everything, even if you can’t identify it.

Katherine:

Can you get specific about some of the treatment classes?

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. So, the most common treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is a chemo immunotherapy called R-CHOP. So, this is three chemotherapies and antibody therapy that’s direct called rituximab (Rituxan) that’s directed at a protein on the lymphoma cells. And then, a steroid called prednisone, given with the chemo and then for a few days after. There was a study that recently showed an improvement with switching one of those drugs with another immunotherapy that’s an antibody conjugated to a chemo drug. But that’s not yet been approved. There are clinical trials available. So, looking at these treatments that might be new or combining therapies with this standard treatment.

And then, very occasionally, there are certain features of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. There are particular few different subtypes that are classified a little bit differently, that are treated within an infusional therapy called Dose Adjusted R-EPOCH.

Katherine:

What about stem cell therapy? Is that used?

Dr. Maddocks:

Stem cell therapy is used in the relapse setting. So, if a patient doesn’t go into a remission or if they relapse after achieving a remission with their chemotherapy, then stem cell transplant is an option. So, there are actually two different types of stem cell transplant. One from yourself and one from somebody else. In lymphoma, we typically do one from yourself, where you donate your own cell before. But we don’t use that as part of the initial treatment.

Katherine:

So, if somebody is high risk, Dr. Maddocks, is the approach different for them?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, it depends. We define high risk in different ways. So, there’s a specific type of lymphoma called double hit lymphoma, where there’s a few chromosomal translocations associated with the lymphoma, that we give a little more aggressive chemo immunotherapy regimen. There are also other subtypes, including a rare type of lymphoma called primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma. Again, categorized a little bit different but sometimes included as a large cell lymphoma. We also give that treatment for.

Katherine:

Is a cure possible?

Dr. Maddocks:

Yes. A cure is possible. When you look at patients who are treated with initial chemotherapy, we cure somewhere between 60 percent to 70 percent of patients with the initial chemotherapy. If patients’ relapse, depending on their age and their condition, they’re candidates for other therapies.

And therapy including other chemo and stem cell transplant is potentially curable in some patients. And then, there’s a newer therapy called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell, or CAR T-cell therapy, which also looks like it’s curing a subset of patients who relapse or don’t respond to initial therapy.

Katherine:

Okay. What are the side effects that patients can expect with these treatments?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, when they get the treatment, on the day they get it, there can be an infusion reaction to the rituximab or antibody therapies. So, the first treatment, that treatment is given very slowly and titrated up. If patients have a reaction, we stop it, treat the reaction, and then they’re able to continue therapy but again, that first day, it can take several hours for that one antibody to get in. And then, later, therapies are given at a more rapid pace.

So, about 70 percent of people who react, it can be really almost anything. Some people get flushing, some people will get a fever, some people have shortness of breath or their heart rate will go up.

Katherine:

Okay. All right. Any other side effects?

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. So then chemotherapy is meant to kill cells during the cell cycle. So, cancer cells divide more rapidly, chemotherapy is targeting them, but it also effects good cells in the body, specifically those that divide at a more rapid pace. The biggest risk of chemotherapy is infection.

So, it effects the good white blood cells that fight infections. It can affect your red cells that carry your iron, gives you your energy. Or your platelets which help you to clot or not bleed when you get caught. So, infection is the biggest risk of chemotherapy. So, usually, with this regimen, that infectious risk is highest within the second week of treatment, that treatment is given every three weeks.

So, we tell patients they should buy a thermometer, check their temperature, they have to notify their doctor or go to the ER if they have a fever. Besides infection, there’s a small percentage of patients who might need a transfusion. GI toxicity. So, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, constipation, all of which we have good treatments for. So, we give medication before chemo to try to prevent people from getting sick and then give them medicine to go home with, if they have any nausea. We can alter those medications as time goes on, if they’re having any problems. So, we just need to know about it. Most patients will lose their hair with this regimen.

It can affect people’s tastes, it can make their skin more sensitive to the sun, and then, less common but potential side effects are it can cause damage to the nerves. Or something we call neuropathy, which most often patients will start with getting numbness or tingling in their fingers and toes, and we can dose adjust if that’s causing some problems.

And then, there’s a risk to the heart with one of the drugs. So, the heart should pump like this. The heart pump function can go down. So, we always check a patient’s heart pump function before they get their chemo, to make sure that they’re not at higher risk for that to happen.

Katherine:

So, all of these approaches are used in initial treatment?

Dr. Maddocks:

Mm-hmm.

Katherine:

Okay. So, how do you know if a treatment is working?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, as far as evaluating treatment, you get a scan before you start treatments, so we know where all the lymphoma is at. And then, typically, you get some sort of scan in the middle of treatment, and then after, you complete your six cycles of treatment. Or for early stages, sometimes patients will get less than six cycles. So, we get scans to make sure it’s working. So, you can tell by those things, how much has gone, hopefully all of it has gone by the end. Occasionally, patients that had a lot of symptoms to start with, their symptoms will go away, and then they’ll start coming back.

This is less common, because the majority of patients do respond to chemotherapy. It’s less common to get patients who are what is called refractory, meaning they don’t get any response to therapy. So, occasionally they’ll note symptoms but a lot of times, we’ll see something on that mid-therapy or end of therapy scan, if it’s not going to make it all go away.

Katherine:

Yeah. So, if a treatment doesn’t work, what happens then?

Dr. Maddocks:

If treatment doesn’t work, it depends a little bit – and now it depends a little bit on the timing of that treatment not working. So, it used to be that patients who were eligible for treatment, no matter if it didn’t work right away or if it put them into what we call a remission, so there’s no evidence of disease and then it relapsed, they would have the option of further chemotherapy and then an autologous stem cell transplant. So, a bone marrow transplant where they donate their own cells.

If they were in a good enough health or if they were not – to do that, you have to donate your own bone marrow cells and as we age, we make less bone marrow cells. So, once you reach a certain age, your body can’t produce enough cells to donate to a transplant. In those patients, we offer them less aggressive chemo options, which were not known to be curable but could put them into remission again, for a while. More recently, there has been some that chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy that I mentioned where you actually donate your own T cells. So that’s –And your lymphoma is of your B cells.

Your T cells are in another immune cell that should recognize that lymphoma is bad and attack it, and they’re not functioning properly. So, you donate your own T cells and they’re sent off and reengineered to target a protein on the tumor. Then, you get those cells back and they’re meant to target the lymphoma and kill the lymphoma cells.

So, that is now an approved therapy for patients who don’t achieve the remission – so, who’s first chemo doesn’t work or if they relapse within a year of completing chemo. So, that’s a possibility. The chemo and transplants a possibility. Or there’s other approved therapies now, that can be given as second options or third or later options, which have been shown to keep patients in remission for a while.

Katherine:

Dr. Maddocks, you touched up on this a moment ago but what are the approaches if a patient relapses? What do you do?

Dr. Maddocks:

So, you would rework them up if they relapsed. Similar to that, if they relapse within a year and they have access to the CAR-T and they’re healthy for that, then that’ll be an option. The second type of chemotherapy in the transplant. So, you can’t just go straight to a transplant. You have to get a different type of chemotherapy to try to get the disease under control again, before you would go to a transplant.

Or there’s a number of other targeted therapies that are approved. So, there’s other – I talked about rituximab is given in the first line, that targets a CD-20 protein, there’s an antibody that targets a CD-19 protein that’s given out in relapse. There’s another antibody drug – there’s actually two antibody drug conjugates. So, an antibody that targets the protein on the cells that are attached to a chemo, that’s given. Or there’s different chemotherapy and then even some oral therapies.

Katherine:

Okay. So, there’s a lot of different options available for people.

Dr. Maddocks:

Correct. And there’s always clinical trials. So, there’s always the option to find something where we’re studying some of these newer therapies. They’re therapies in combination.

Katherine:

Well, that leads us right into emerging options and I’d like to talk about that. Have there been any recent developments in how DLBCL is treated?

Dr. Maddocks:

There had been recent developments. So, the CAR T-cell therapy, there is now three approved options for patients. And so, even patients who maybe are older and not considered candidates for a stem cell transplant because of other medical factors, might be able to get the CAR T-cell therapy. This is now, again, approved in the second line. There are a couple antibody drug conjugates, polatuzumab (Polivy) and loncastuximab (Lonca, Zylonta), they target proteins called CD-79 and CD-19.

And the polatuzumab’s the one that probably is going to be available for part of the front-line treatment in the future. There’s the antibody __ and lenalidomide. These are all approved therapies in the relapse setting. There are also therapies that are being studied and showing promising activity, which we think are probably likely to be approved in the future. There’s something particularly called bi-specific antibodies.

So, this targets a protein on the tumor cell but also a protein on the T cell. So, remember I said the T cells aren’t functioning. So, this targets the protein on the lymphoma cell but then targets a protein on the T cell to engage it to attack the lymphoma cell.

Katherine:

Right. Combination approaches?

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. So, there are a number of combination approaches under study a lot of the therapies that I mentioned, like the bi-specific antibodies, the antibody drug conjugates. These are all therapies that – they have side effects – I hate to say they’re well-tolerated – they have side effects but their side effects are such that they can be combined with other agents, that have different toxicities that are combined with each other. And so, there’s a lot of ongoing trials looking at combining these. There’re also oral targeted therapies that target proteins that are known to help the lymphoma cells survive and these are modulator therapies, BTK inhibitors, other inhibitors, that are being evaluated and used in combinations.

Katherine:

Thanks, Dr. Maddocks. That’s really helpful information. So, now that we understand more about DLBCL and how it’s treated, let’s talk about self-advocacy and how patients can engage in their own care. Why is it so important for patients to have a voice in their decisions?

Dr. Maddocks:

Well, I always tell my patients that they are the person most invested in their selves and their outcomes. As a care team, we certainly are invested in them and we want them to do well but they’re the one that knows their body, they know what’s going on, they’re the one that has to, essentially, live with all these outcomes. So, they have to be invested in what’s going on, they have to be invested in making sure that they know their care team is informed of things because we only see them in different periods of time and we’re not with them all the time to know what’s going on.

Katherine:

Right. It’s not always easy for patients to speak up. So, I’d like to debunk some common misconceptions that patients have, that may be holding them back. First one is, “I’m bothering my doctor with all my questions.” Is that true?

Dr. Maddocks:

That is not true at all. So, the best thing is an informed patient. So, I want to answer all their questions. “What is the disease or diagnosis?” “What are the treatment options?” “What do we know now?” “What are we learning?” I need to know what’s going on. I always tell my patients that I can’t help them with what I don’t know. So, if somebody shows up, they get once cycle of treatment and they show up for a second cycle and they’ve had all these problems and never called or notified me, first of all, we weren’t able to help them. There’s a lot of things we can do to help them and if we don’t know what’s going on, we can’t help.

And second, that might impact that second treatment, whereas knowing and knowing that sooner, we can plan to make changes.

Katherine:

Yeah. That’s really good advice. Here’s another one. “My doctor’s feelings will get hurt if I get a second opinion.”

Dr. Maddocks:

Not at all. So, I always encourage patients that they should get a second opinion, third opinion, whatever they need. No. 1, I think it’s important that a patient feels comfortable with their diagnosis and their treatment

plan because I really think that things go better if they understand that and they’re comfortable. If they’re always doubting what’s going on, it’s really hard to develop that trusting relationship. And I think it’s very important that a patient has a trusting relationship with their care team.

I think most of the time, when you get a second opinion, you’re probably going to hear or get the same advice. And so, that helps a patient to feel comfortable. Sometimes, there may be clinical trials out there that your doctor didn’t know about, that are options, and a doctor’s always going to be happy if there’s something out there available, that might make the patient outcome better, that they didn’t know about.

And lastly, I would say there are a lot of doctors who treat all types of cancer and there are some doctors that specialize in certain types of cancer. And so, if you were seeing a doctor who treats multiple different kinds, but want to see a doctor who specializes in a particular kind, they may be aware of a recent trial or a recent development that your doctor doesn’t know. Not because there’s anything wrong with that doctor, it’s just that there is so much data to keep up with these days, in cancer, that a specialist might be able to provide a point of view that somebody else doesn’t know.

Katherine:

Yeah. Another question or comment is, “There isn’t anything that could be done about my symptoms or treatment side effects. So, why should I even say anything?”

Dr. Maddocks:

That’s a great question but the thing is, a lot of times there are things. So, the one thing is, some of the treatments we use for some of our cancers, including lymphoma, have been around for a really long time. But some of the things that have changed, are our supportive care or our ability to treat patient side effects. So, I think that it’s always important that patients let us know if they’re having side effects because maybe nausea – so, we give medication to prevent that.

Usually, I send patients home with two different types of nausea medication. But if that’s not helping, I have more than two in my toolbox, I just don’t know to prescribe them if the typical things aren’t helping. So, a lot of times, there are things that we can do. Sometimes you have to tweak the dosing of the chemo, but really, the only way you can help with symptom management is if you know somebody’s having symptoms.

Katherine:

Right. So, when somebody starts to have side effects from the treatment, should they contact their care team right away?

Dr. Maddocks:

Yes. They should contact their care team right away. There are certain side effects, like having a fever during chemo, where they really need to go to the emergency room to be evaluated, to make sure it’s nothing. Because an infection can be very serious when you’re getting chemotherapy. Other side effects that are less emergent but, yes. Most of the time there’s a patient number that patients can call, where they can seek, like a nurse help line, where they can seek assistance, and that call can be escalated depending on the symptoms and what needs to be helped.

But I think, again, it’s important that we know what’s going on so we can help patients. And then, if something needs to be further investigated – because occasionally there will be something that’ll make us think, “Oh, we really need to evaluate this patient because what if it’s more than what it seems?”

Katherine:

Right. Are there any other misconceptions that you hear about from patients?

Dr. Maddocks:

I think, just in general, thinking about the patient taking care of themselves. So, a lot of times there can be resources that patients have questions on. Things like exercise. Things like nutrition. Things in the environment that they can be exposed to. Just different things. I think it’s always important that you ask your care team if there’s any question because they’re going to best be able to tell you versus just assuming something.

There’s a lot of good information that patients can get from educational sites. There’s a lot of good information on the internet but there’s also a lot of bad information, or inaccurate information on the internet. So, I think it’s great for patients to use resources and educate themselves but I think that it’s always good to confirm with your care team. Myths versus facts.

Katherine:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s really important. Do you recommend that patients continue getting vaccines? For COVID, for flu?

Dr. Maddocks:

Yes. So, particularly, when you look at lymphomas, this is a cancer of the immune system. The cancer can make your immune system compromise the treatment. While you’re getting treated makes your immune system compromised. And even for a period after treatment, your immune system can be compromised. So, it’s important to protect yourselves against infection. Sometimes the efficacy of vaccines in the middle of treatment might not be as good as not being on treatment.

But that said, there’s no data that the vaccines are harmful. You do have to be careful about live vaccines when you’re under treatment, and you should ask your doctor about not the typical vaccines, of course. But I think that it’s very important to take every step that patients can, to try to prevent themselves from battling something in addition to them already undergoing treatments, their body’s already going through a lot.

And so, anything that we can do or they can do to help prevent them from dealing with more than they already are, I think is important.

Katherine:

To close, what would you like to leave the audience with? Do you think that people can feel hopeful about the tools available to treat DLBCL?

Dr. Maddocks:

Yeah. I think, if you look at the progress we’ve made in the last five years, the last drug approved was rituximab in the early 2000s, and now in the last five years, we have had numerous therapies approved. Now it looks like we’re changing front-line therapy and numerous therapies that relapse. So, there’s a lot of – these are all promising therapies, some of them potentially curing patients that we weren’t able to cure before.

And so, they’re more available to patients. There’s a lot of promising drugs in clinical trials. And so, I think it’s hard to deal with a diagnosis but there are options for patients, both initially and at relapse, and I think seeking out what’s available, both to you and in clinical trials, is important to helping further improve outcomes.

Katherine:

Yeah. Dr. Maddocks, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Dr. Maddocks:

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our collaborators. To learn more about DLBCL and to access tools to help you become a more proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for being with us today.

Addressing Racial Disparities in CLL Care

Addressing Racial Disparities in CLL Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How are CLL racial disparities being addressed? Dr. Adam Kittai explains abstracts presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2022 conference that examined CLL disparities and shares resources for patients who feel they’re struggling to receive equitable care. 

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

Related Resources:

How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?

 
Overcoming Known Disparities and Access for CLL Patients

Why Should CLL Patients Consider Participating in a Clinical Trial?

Transcript:

Katherine:

We touched on research at the top of the program, but are there other areas of research that you’re excited about and that patients should know about? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so one of the things that I think is being really talked about in cancer care – and medical care in general – is if disparities exist between minority patients and white patients. And I think this is a really, really important topic.   

So, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which had the conference recently, really made this a mainstay point of the conference this year and there were a lot of abstracts that were defining whether disparities exist and hopefully, by defining whether disparities exist, we’re able to target those disparities in order to make outcomes equal for all of our patients.  

So, in the CLL world, one of the things that I alluded to is a lot of our therapies can be really expensive. So, these new therapies are really expensive, they really widen the disparity gap for patients who are minorities, as well as patients who come from socioeconomic status.  

Katherine:

Absolutely. 

Dr. Kittai:

And so, there were two abstracts. One was an oral presentation that looked at the National Cancer Database in ASCO that showed that Black patients do have worse overall survival than white patients. And then, I actually did my own study looking at the SEER database, which also showed the same exact thing. Even when controlling for socioeconomic status.  

So, I think addressing these disparities, making sure that there’s equity amongst our patients, that everyone has access to these drugs and can afford them, especially when they make our patients live longer and are safer than chemoimmunotherapy in CLL is very, very important.  

Katherine:

Dr. Kittai, if a patient feels like they’re not getting equitable care, are there resources available for them?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so one of the things that I love about the CLL society, is that they have a section called Access an Expert, I believe. So, look on the website, I’m not sure it’s actually called Access an Expert, but it’s a way for all patients to get a second opinion from one of the CLL experts listed on the website. And so, if somebody is feeling like they’re not getting access to the most beneficial treatment, for whatever reason, seeking a second opinion and using the CLL Society’s website to find that second opinion, I think would be a great way for someone who feels that way to get access to the care that they deserve.  

I believe there are other ways to do this through the Lymphoma Research Foundation, as well as LLS. But I know for sure on the CLL Society, there is a link that you can click that you can get access to a second opinion.  

What Barriers Do CLL Patients Face in Accessing Clinical Trials?

What Barriers Do CLL Patients Face in Accessing Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When could CLL patients run into barriers to clinical trial access? CLL expert Dr. Adam Kittai explains how access can vary, explains cooperative groups, and discusses the financial benefits of some clinical trials.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

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Transcript:

Katherine:

What do you feel are the barriers to accessing clinical trials for patients?  

Dr. Kittai:

So, unfortunately, a lot of clinical trials are at academic centers, and so there are – and the reason that is, is that the academic centers have the infrastructure to run the clinical trial. So, as we have mentioned before, there’s a lot of visits with a lot of extra science and labs that are done associated with the clinical trial. And a lot of those things and the coordination can only be done at large centers that can open clinical trials and know how to run them.  

Similar explanation could be that that safety monitoring committee that I’d mentioned before, where the academic centers have the infrastructure to ensure safety for the patients. So, access to academic centers is a limitation to enrolling in clinical trials. That being said, there are a lot of centers that are associated with an academic center and do have a lot of the clinical trials that are available at the academic center.  

And there are also cooperative groups. These cooperative groups are called Alliance and ECOG and SWOG. And these cooperative groups are national groups that are headed by multiple academic centers in partnership with pharmaceutical companies and they typically run large Phase III medical trials that help redefine standard of care. And those particular clinical trials are often available at private practices as well.  

Katherine:

Oh, that’s great. So, patients don’t necessarily have to think about traveling to a large educational institution then to become part of the clinical trial?  

Dr. Kittai:

Not always. Not always. Typically for the Phase I, the answer is yes. But for Phase III trials, usually there’s a lot of access available for Phase III trials.  

Katherine:

What would you say to patients who may be hesitant about participating in a trial?  

Dr. Kittai:

I would say that it’s important to at least ask about what’s available. And knowing what’s available and the risks and benefits of going on a clinical trial is how you should make the determination if you should go on a clinical trial.  

Remember what I said earlier that the clinical trial is really meant to help improve safety or efficacy. So, we don’t open clinical trials that we are not hoping to improve one of those two things. And so, that is something that we should be able to put in words to you when inquiring about the clinical trial. What is the goal of this trial, and why do you think it’s going to improve safety or efficacy? And the physician who’s talking the trial with you about it should be able to answer those questions for you. So, if you have some hesitance about going in clinical trials, I would say gather your information first before making a final decision.  

Katherine:

Some patients worry about the financial aspect or impact of a clinical trial. Aren’t trials expensive?  

Dr. Kittai:

So, actually, most clinical trials are less expensive than enrolling a standard of care. So, this is actually a benefit of going on a clinical trial. Often times, the drugs in the clinical trial are a cover. So, that’s something to ask too. And so, if somebody’s having trouble getting access to novel therapy that is looking good in a specific cancer, a clinical trial is actually a way to get access to that drug without paying for it.  

Also, all clinical trials when they’re being developed are looked at by the finance committees of the hospital or wherever it’s being developed. All standard of care options are billed through the patient insurance, but all the extra stuff is usually covered by the pharmaceutical company that’s enrolling those patients onto the trial. Or I should say the supporting the clinical trial.

How Can CLL Patients Find Clinical Trials?

How Can CLL Patients Find Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Finding a CLL clinical trial can feel overwhelming for some patients, so where can they start? CLL expert Dr. Adam Kittai shares advice, credible resources, and provides key questions to ask about trial participation.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

Related Resources:

How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?

 
Are Clinical Trials a Logistical Nightmare?

A CLL Expert Addresses Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions

Transcript:

Katherine:

Now that we know what trials are and how they work, how can people find out what trials are available to them? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah. So, I’ll come back to this, but once again, talk to your physician. They’ll know what clinical trials are available at whatever site you are seeing them in. If there’s a local academic sector, the academic sector typically has clinical trials available there as well. So, it’s always good to get a second opinion in that regard.  

But one of the open access places that you can find all clinical trials is clinicaltrials.gov. This has all active running clinical trials listed out and anyone can access it. There are other societies out there that often post about clinical trials. So, there’s the CLL Society. It’s a website that you can check out that has a lot of information on there about active clinical trials in CLL. There’s also The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, they all have websites available that have a lot of clinical trials listed and how to access them.  

Katherine:

Are there key questions that you think patients should ask their health care team about participating in a trial?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, for sure. I think one of the key questions to ask is, is the control arm appropriate. So, what do I mean by that? Sometimes people who design a clinical trial will design a trial where the control arm is an easy control arm to beat, meaning that it’s a treatment that we wouldn’t necessarily put you on as standard of care.  

And so, I think this is a real question and an honest question that you should ask your physician prior to enrolling on a trial is, is the control arm something you would give me as standard of care. And if the answer is no, you should really consider not going on that trial or talking about why you would want to go on that trial if the control arm is not something they would put you put you on as standard of care.  

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

That’s, I think, a key question to ask. And again, asking what phase it is and understanding where we are in the development.  

Are CLL Clinical Trials Safe?

Are CLL Clinical Trials Safe? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should CLL patients know about clinical trial safety? CLL expert Dr. Adam Kittai explains concerns that patients should discuss with their doctor, the level of research before Phase I studies, and drug safety monitoring.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Patients often have questions about safety. What are the risks of clinical trial participation?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so before anybody enrolls onto a clinical trial, you should sit with your doctor to talk about the pros and cons of entering this clinical trial. One of the things that they will talk to you about is what the expected safety of this drug is. So, you might ask yourself, well, if it’s a phase one study, first in human study, how do they know what toxicity to expect? 

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

The answer is that there’s a lot of pre-human studies that occur, both in mice and monkeys and other animals, and researchers often have a good idea of what to expect in human. But there is a lot of unknowns in a phase one clinical trial. And after discussing with your doctor the pros and cons of going on a clinical trial and what side effect profile to expect from whatever drug or combination that you are about to be using, usually you go through a consent.  

Usually, you’ll get a packet, it’s about 10 to 20 pages long, written in a way that patients can understand. And it’ll have a list of toxicities that are associated with the research that is occurring. In terms of knowing what adverse events might happen, the consent is key, because it’ll have those all listed out.  

And also having the conversation with your physician about either what they’ve experienced giving this clinical trial, or what is to be expected after this drug had been introduced pre-humans.  

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Are there protocols in place to protect patients? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yes. So, remember how we talked about in the phase one trials, we dose escalate the drug until we’ve reached some toxicity limit? There are specifically rules written out in a protocol that the doctor must follow that ensures safety for the patients that enroll in clinical trials. And that dose escalation part where we reach a toxic limit is a key part of those phase one trials that is spelled out before you even enroll.  

Usually, there’s also something called a Data Safety Monitoring Committee, as well as other committees that are looking at patients as they are receiving these drugs and move forward on clinical trials to make sure that the investigators are following the protocol as printed. That if anything happens, they document why it happened and fix the problem before it becomes another problem for a patient. So, there are very specific safety rules and a lot of redundancy to protect our patients, because the number one priority is to protect the patient. 

Katherine:

Yeah. I think you’ve already answered this, Dr. Kittai, but how do you know the medicine is safe before a human trial even begins? 

Dr. Kittai:

The answer is you don’t. There is some risk. As I said, they do test it in animals before they give the drug to humans, and they usually start at the lowest dose possible. But there are certain circumstances where there are surprising side effects that are not expected. And so, when you’re entering a first in human, Phase I trial, that is a specific risk that you do need discussed with your physician about before you enroll. 

Katherine:

Can a patient change their mind once they’ve enrolled in a clinical trial? 

Dr. Kittai:

Always. Always.  

Katherine:

Okay. 

Dr. Kittai:

They can come off the clinical trial at any point if they choose to. 

What Are the Types of CLL Clinical Trials?

What Are the Types of CLL Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

There is not just one type of clinical trial. Expert Dr. Adam Kittai explains the types and how the trials are conducted, including randomized and double-blind studies.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

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CLL Clinical Trials: What Are the Phases?

 
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Transcript:

Katherine:

Okay. You mentioned randomized clinical trials. There are a couple of other clinical trials as well. Would you define them and tell us how they’re different from one another?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah. So, a randomized trial is when you enroll onto a study, and you get randomly assigned to either the experimental arm or the control arm. The experimental arm is that new drug that we talked about. And the control arm is usually the standard of care. So, that’s a randomized study. 

And randomized studies are usually Phase III trials, but they can be phase two in some scenarios as well. You have – usually that’s paired with a randomized control study. So, a control study is just there’s a control arm, that’s what that means. But those usually go hand in hand. Those are usually together.  

And then another trial is the double-blind clinical trial. So, a double-blind clinical trial means that once you’re randomized to either the experimental or the control, neither you nor the physician know what drug you’re taking. And that usually is not used in CLL trials. Usually, we know what drug the patient is assigned to. And the reason why that is, is because oftentimes we’re looking out for specific adverse events or toxicities of the drugs we’re implementing at Phase III.  

And then, also, if you’re getting a triplet versus a doublet, meaning three drugs versus two drugs, it’s very hard to blind somebody to know which drug they’re on because obviously you’re getting three drugs versus two drugs. Or if an infusion is involved in one arm but not in the other arm, you obviously know that you’re getting an infusion versus an oral drug. 

Katherine:

Ah, okay. Are there common clinical trial terms that you think patients should know about? 

Dr. Kittai:

I think we covered most of them. So, knowing that phase one is typically the first in the sequence of events that I would ask your physician if this was a first in human study, right, because that comes with some special considerations knowing that you are the first human to receive a new drug is very important. Versus a phase three study where, you know, you know this drug has already gone through phase one and two in development, meaning it’s been given to a lot of patients, and they’re just looking to see if it’s better than standard of care. So, I think knowing those general concepts about what’s the difference between a phase one and a Phase III study, it’s very different. I think it’s important to keep those in mind when talking about clinical trials and discussing with your doctor.  

CLL Clinical Trials: What Are the Phases?

CLL Clinical Trials: What Are the Phases? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

CLL clinical trials have different phases, but what happens in each phase? CLL expert Dr. Adam Kittai explains the goal of each phase in relation to research and patient care.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

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What Is a Clinical Trial and What Are the Phases? 

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Transcript:

Katherine:

Let’s talk a bit about how trials work, starting with the phases. What happens at each phase?  

Dr. Kittai:

There are actually four phases of clinical trials, although three phases are typically what’s talked about. So, Phase I is when we are first introducing the new medication, the combination, or the old medication in a new scenario for the first time in a human being.  

Phase one encompasses a lot of different things. It could be a first in-human phase one, where we’re giving the drug for the first time in a human being. It could be, as I said, the combination of drugs being used for the first time in a human being. Or it could be that we have this drug that works for this other cancer and we’re trying it out on this new cancer. So, we might have experience with this drug in another scenario, but not in the scenario we’re trying to do.  

And the primary purpose of the phase one clinical trial is to see if it’s safe. So, that’s the primary purpose of a phase one clinical trial – see if this new medication, this old medication in this new scenario, or this new combination is safe to use going forward.  

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

We are able to see if it works to a small degree in the phase one trial, but typically these trials are very small with somewhere between 10 to 50 patients. And so, it’s hard to know how well this works by looking at such a small amount of patients.  

Once the Phase I trial goes forward, we usually go onto Phase II. So, one of the other points about Phase I is to determine the correct dose. Usually in phase ones, we increase the dose of the drug slowly until it meets some sort of toxicity cut-off for our patients. So, once that dose is discovered, then we move onto Phase II, and Phase II is usually a small study, usually about 50-100 patients where we’re looking at preliminary efficacy, to see if this drug, this new combination, or the drug in a new scenario, is actually working.   

And so, Phase II will tell us we think it’s working and if it looks good in phase two, it gets moved onto Phase III. Phase III is the final part of the drug development, where if it passes Phase III, it usually gets approved by the Federal Drug Administration. And Phase III is usually a randomized trial where you’re giving the new drug, the combo, or the old drug in a new situation, and you’re comparing it to whatever’s used as standard of care in that particular scenario.  

Katherine:

Right. 

Dr. Kittai:

And that’s usually a randomized study where patients are either getting the new thing or the old thing. And then, we’re determining which one works better. Lastly is Phase IV, and this is post marketing. So, after a drug gets approved, the drug company and the FDA requires just a wide scope of just data that’s collected to see how well the drug is working and if it’s safe once it’s brought out to the wider community.  

A CLL Expert Addresses Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions

A CLL Expert Addresses Common Clinical Trial Misconceptions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

CLL patients and care partners often have misconceptions about clinical trials. CLL expert Dr. Adam Kittai addresses common patient questions and concerns about trials.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

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How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?

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Are Clinical Trials Safe?

Transcript:

Katherine:

Right. So, I’d like to walk through a few common questions that patients have about clinical trials. And here’s a concern we received from a patient prior to the webinar. “I’m nervous that I will receive a placebo if I join a clinical trial.” So, first of all, would you define a placebo? 

Dr. Kittai:

Sure. A placebo is usually a sugar pill or something that has no effect. That’s what a placebo is.  

Katherine:

And is it true then, would a patient possibly get a placebo in a CLL clinical trial? 

Dr. Kittai:

Not typically. So, in terms of clinical trials for CLL, we have a lot of treatments that are effective and safe in CLL. And so, we don’t typically design trials where you’re not getting some kind of active therapy. It would be extremely rare, and I don’t know of any trials currently that involve patients getting a placebo for CLL. Because it wouldn’t be ethical for us to enroll a patient on a trial where they would get a placebo instead of active therapy. 

Katherine:

Here’s another question from an audience member, and I think this is probably a common concern for patients. “Is a clinical trial only something I should consider if there are no other options?” 

Dr. Kittai:

So, in my opinion, you should always consider a clinical trial, even if there are other options. And it’s because of those two reasons that I mentioned earlier. Number one, it benefits the CLL community as a whole to participate in the trial so that way doctors and researchers can collect data to improve outcomes for patients with CLL. And also, even though our drugs currently work really well, we don’t know how well they’ll last for, right? So, they still don’t know for certain how long our current drugs are going to work for in the future.  

And we’re always trying to do better. We’re always trying to create some sort of treatment, some sort of treatment paradigm that might be safer, as well as work better, and either of those goals is approvable. All of our drugs come with toxicity, right? And even though they’re really safe and they work really well, we’re hoping to develop something that is even safer and works even better.  

Katherine:

Yeah. It sounds, then, like trials can be considered throughout a patient’s life with CLL. What concerns do you hear from your patients?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so I think the primary concern I hear about a trial and the difference between going on a trial and standard of care, is that typically for a trial, it does require a little bit more from the patient. Meaning that there’s usually more visits – whether it is to monitor the effect of the new medication or new medication combination on the patient, whether or not it’s affecting their laboratory values or how they’re feeling.  

Or there might be parts of the trial that require invasive procedures. So, for instance, many trials will require bone marrow biopsies where a standard of care won’t. And the reason why the collection of those bone marrow biopsies is important for the trial is to better get an idea of how the treatment is working on a patient’s body.  

So, I think those are the two primary concerns I hear from the patient. Number one, it typically is a bigger time commitment with more visits to the doctor because we have to closely monitor the patients while they’re on trial. And number two is sometimes the trial involves procedures that otherwise wouldn’t be indicated for standard of care.  

Why Should CLL Patients Consider Participating in a Clinical Trial?

Why Should CLL Patients Consider Participating in a Clinical Trial? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is a CLL clinical trial, and why should patients consider participation? CLL expert Dr. Adam Kittai explains the purpose of clinical trials and how patients can benefit. 

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

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How Can Clinical Trials Be Accessed?

CLL Clinical Trials: What Are the Phases?

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Transcript:

Katherine:

So, a key part in moving forward with CLL research is clinical trials, right? So, for people who may not know the term, what is a clinical trial? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah. So, a clinical trial is an experiment where patients are enrolled to receive a treatment that is either new or new in a new setting – so, an old treatment in a new setting – and we’re looking to see whether or not the treatment leads to improved outcomes for our patients.  

Katherine:

Why would a CLL patient consider participating in a trial? What’s the benefit for them? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, great question again. The benefit of a clinical trial is two-fold. One is that by participating in a clinical trial, we are collecting data to determine what’s best for patients moving forward. So, in a way, by participating in a trial, you’re contributing to the benefit of CLL patients in the future to help us determine what’s best for everybody moving forward. That’s one reason to go on a clinical trial. Another reason to go onto clinical trials is that it allows for access to therapies that may not be available otherwise, which may work better than what we already have and may be safer.  

CLL Research Highlights: What Should Patients Know About?

CLL Research Highlights: What Should Patients Know About? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should CLL patients know about recent research updates? CLL expert Dr. Adam Kittai shares recent research highlights, including updates on BTK inhibitors, BCL-2 inhibitors, and monoclonal antibodies.

Dr. Adam Kittai is a hematologist and an assistant professor at the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Kittai, here.

See More from CLL Clinical Trials 201

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Clinical Trials As a CLL Treatment Option: What You Should Know

Transcript:

Katherine:

I understand that CLL researchers met recently at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, also known as ASCO, to share their research. Are there highlights from the meeting that patients should know about?  

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, so this time of year, there are two main conferences actually that are very important to the CLL groups at large, as well as the oncology community. So, there’s ASCO and then there’s EHA, the European Hematology Association. And in general, there was a lot of exciting things at both of these conferences. 

In CLL, we have two main treatments that we’re really focused on. One is called the BTK inhibitors, which is ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, and zanubrutinib that you may have heard about. And the other treatment regimen is called venetoclax, and that’s usually paired with something called obinutuzumab. So, right now we’re either using the BTK inhibitors or the venetoclax as our frontline therapies. And typically, when patients progress on either one of those treatments – their disease gets worse – we switch to the other one. 

And so, what I’m getting to be that right now, that paradigm of starting with one therapy – the BTK inhibitors or the venetoclax – and then switching to the other, or vice versa, is being challenged. How that’s being challenged is combining the two medications together to see if combining them together is better than giving them sequentially. So, I think this is the primary research that’s being looked at in the world of CLL and we got some updates to show that the combination of the BTK inhibitors, plus the venetoclax, is looking quite good. It’s looking like it’s inducing deep remissions in some of our patients.  

Some of the challenges here though that we still need to figure out is that a lot of these combinations are leading to more toxicity. So, ultimately, I think we’re going to have a discussion about who is the appropriate patient for the combination, as opposed to giving it sequentially. 

There’s also a lot more research going on, looking at what we call randomized trials, which we’ll get to in a second, to determine if the combination is better than giving it sequentially. Right now, we just have what we call single-arm studies that kind of show safety and how well the trial works. But really, the definitive clinical trials – and once again, we’ll get to this a little bit later – are going to be randomized study where we randomize patients to the combination versus the sequential therapy to determine if doing it together is better than doing it sequentially.  

So, I would say that this new treatment paradigm of combining our two main treatments up front is looking quite good. We’re worried about some of the toxicities when we combine these medications, and we’re still not quite sure if combining them is the right approach, if it actually is superior to giving them sequentially. So, I think that’s the name in research right now for CLL, whether or not combination therapy is better than sequential therapy. The jury is still out, but some of the new data we saw was exciting. 

Katherine:

So, how can patients stay up to date on research like this as it develops? 

Dr. Kittai:

Yeah, great question. So, for one, you can talk to your physician. A lot of the physicians will go to either ASCO or the European Hematology Association and be able to come back with some of this data to share with their patients. And then also, there’s a lot of smaller conferences that local oncologists will go to get highlights from these particular conferences, where they also will come back to the patient to let them know some of this highlighted research. I think that’s probably the easiest way for patients to get access to this research. And Google’s our friend, right? And so, a lot of things are available on Google if you know where to look for them.