7 stories of Hope: ‘How Close I Came’ — New leukemia therapy is showing promise in clinical trial
– BY TERRI L. JONES –
When standard chemotherapy wasn’t delivering the desired results for Roberta Richardson’s leukemia, her oncologist recommended she participate in a clinical trial at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center.
Being a test subject wasn’t an easy decision for the 54-year-old. “Your only knowledge of people participating in a clinical trial is that they’ve pretty much gotten to the end of the road and there’s nothing else that can be done for them,” says Richardson, who was diagnosed with terminal acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in June 2010.
Fortunately for Richardson, it ended up being the end of the road for her cancer instead. After she commuted to Massey from Stafford, Va., almost every day from March to mid-May 2012 (and lost her hair, fingernails, toenails and even her eyelashes in the process), her leukemia went into partial remission. Once her disease was under control, she was eligible for a stem cell transplant, which put her into complete remission and strengthened her immune system to guard against future recurrences.
The Phase I clinical trial used a combination of two targeted agents, belinostat and bortezomib, to kill leukemia cells, a therapy under research for the past eight to nine years by Dr. Steven Grant, associate director of translational research at Massey. In Phase I, when administration, frequency and dosage of drugs are determined, measurable results are usually not common. However, in this case, several patients achieved some level of remission.
“That is noteworthy,” says Grant. “This is a patient who had not responded very well to more conventional therapy. We were apparently able to reduce the burden of her disease to the point that it became feasible for her to undergo bone marrow [stem cell] transplantation.” The trial was led by Dr. Beata Holkova. Because this therapy must undergo additional phases, it could be several years before it is available to the general public.
While her cancer is gone, it has definitely left its mark on Richardson.
“This process has certainly taught me to slow down and appreciate things a little bit more … I’ll always remember how close I came and how short life is,” she says.
Terri L. Jones is a Richmond freelance writer and advertising/marketing copywriter. Visit her at WordPlayCreative.com.