Clinical cancer treatments work to further scientific research

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER — Wayne Wymer, 60, of Winchester, wanted to become involved in a clinical trial because he knows cancer treatments change — and improve — every day.

He has had multiple myeloma for 17 years. Diagnosed at 43 years old, his cancer became more aggressive in October 2010.

Lorraine Bennett, 84, of Front Royal, said she decided to participate because she had never been through a similar treatment, and would view it as a normal medical procedure — she was diagnosed with lymphoma in June 2013.

Claudia Phillips, research nurse with Shenandoah Oncology, works with all the practice’s clinical trial patients. She said their reasons for signing up for trials may differ slightly.

“The interesting part is, most patients go on a study and say, you know, even if it doesn’t help me, so long as it helps someone else, it’s worth it,” Phillips said.

That, Bennett said, was certainly the reason she wanted to participate.

“I felt like, if I could help in a research program that would help people in the future, then I would be glad to do it,” she said.

Clinical trials can vary vastly between patients, Phillips said. Sometimes they will get the traditional treatment plus another drug, or they will get a new drug that has been used to treat a different type of cancer in the past. Or, they will be part of a blind study and get only the traditional treatment.

“It’s unfortunately misunderstood by a lot of people,” Philips said. “They are hesitant to try something new, and maybe don’t understand that we do already know a lot about these drugs before we use them.”

Many of the drugs Shenandoah Oncology has researched have gone on to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Gazyva, a drug used to treat leukemia, was studied through the practice before its approval. It is now being tested to see if it could treat lymphoma.

Another exciting test currently taking place is with a drug called palbociclip, which has not yet been approved by the FDA. Phillips said they are using it in two trials now to treat menostatic breast cancer, and the results, so far, look promising.

Wymer’s trial involves a drug already approved by the FDA to treat multiple myeloma — but his trial involves receiving a higher dose once a week rather than the approved, lower dose twice a week.

His treatment takes about three or four hours every week, Wymer said. He started about one month ago, and was undergoing chemotherapy before that.

The chemotherapy caused nerve-ending damage in his feet. And he said “it just doesn’t feel good.” So far, his clinical trial is going well.

“It’s a lot better,” he said. “I only have one bad night, usually, a week.”

Bennett was part of a study that combined chemotherapy and targeted therapy. She was randomized, either to receive the standard targeted therapy or a new type, which they were hoping to compare to the standard.

“She was randomized to the standard therapy,” Phillips said. “So in that sense, she did not get the experimental drug but she was in the clinical trial.”

The practice participates in clinical trials for both hematological cancers like leukemia or lymphoma and solid tumors, such as breast or lung cancers.

“It’s an opportunity to receive a potentially beneficial new treatment that isn’t available yet on the market,” she said.

Some diseases do not include a lot of great options, such as ovarian cancer, she added, so involvement in a clinical trial may give patients the hope that they are involved in developing a new, standard treatment.

“The only reason we do it is for our patients — to give them options and to further the science,” Phillips said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com