Bringing pharma together for the good of all patients – an interview with Dr. Gwen Nichols from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Apr 27, 2018
Bringing pharma together for the good of all patients – an interview with Dr. Gwen Nichols from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Now is a very promising time for people with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) as years of research start to come to fruition.

The last 40 years have seen few advances in treatments for the disease.1 But the Beat AML Master Clinical Trial, led by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), is changing that by testing multiple agents from different manufacturers at the same time.

With AML World Awareness Day just last week, Change Together spoke to Chief Medical Officer at LLS Dr. Gwen Nichols about coordinating the groundbreaking effort that’s moving the latest findings from the lab to the clinic.

First, tell us about the challenges of treating AML

AML is relatively rare, compared to lung or breast cancer2, and it’s not really one disease.3 I am a former hematologist and when I started training the classification broke it down into six or seven diseases, but there are actually many more subtypes.3

One of the biggest challenges in AML is how do you start to treat it not as one disease, but as many different diseases with different drivers.

At LLS, we noticed that more than 25% of our research funds were going towards understanding the biology of AML, yet the treatment was staying the same.

When we discussed this with investigators and pharmaceutical companies, we realized there was a consensus to figure out how, in relatively small subgroups, we could more efficiently test these new agents, to see if they add to our treatment armamentarium.

How is the Beat AML Master Clinical Trial, which brings together multiple pharmaceutical companies, tackling this challenge?

We felt a master trial effort, where we tested multiple agents simultaneously and where we could start and stop individual study arms without shutting down the whole trial, was the best way to move more agents forwards in a more effective fashion.

The investigators are really excited because there is an option for every newly diagnosed patient over 60. There is no control arm, so this trial provides an experimental option for every patient who wants to participate.  That helps doctors to recruit, because they know anyone they talk to can be on it.

What’s also exciting is that we have shown it is possible to test tumor samples to find out what subtype of AML newly diagnosed patients have really quickly. Doctors have been able to begin treating patients with the best possible experimental therapy within a week.

How is the LLS best placed to bring all the interested parties together?

As an advocacy group, we are a neutral stakeholder. We don’t have any interest in the intellectual property, we only have an interest in the patient and in trying to advance the science.

We have good relationships with the pharmaceutical companies, with the FDA and the regulatory authorities, and this allows us to focus on what would be best and most safe for the patients.

I used to be a pharmaceutical executive, and I know it’s hard to make some things happen when you have two competing companies trying to figure out how to work together. Because we have no vested interest, we can coordinate that effort with the right focus.

How else does LLS support people with AML?

We offer a vast array of financial and educational support. We have online and print resources for all different educational levels, and education programs for patients and caregivers, and professional education programs for physicians and nurses.

We have peer support services across the U.S., to help people find someone who has gone through what AML patients are going through. AML is very demanding on the caregiver, and we support them too.

LLS has a free online resource center and patients can call 1-800-955-4572 for help and support. To find out more about the Beat AML Master Clinical Trial, visit the LLS website.

Dr. Nichols participated in our webinar, “Knowledge is power – using education and awareness to drive positive change for patients”, on May 3. To find out more and to watch on demand, please click here.


References

  1. OncLive (2018). Novel Agents Advance Field of AML. Available from: https://www.onclive.com/web-exclusives/novel-agents-advance-field-of-aml (accessed April 2018).
  2. National Cancer Institute (2018). SEER Cancer Stat Facts: Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Available from: https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/amyl.html (accessed April 2018).
  3. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (2018). AML Subtypes. Available from: https://www.lls.org/leukemia/acute-myeloid-leukemia/diagnosis/aml-subtypes (accessed April 2018).
Bringing pharma together for the good of all patients – an interview with Dr. Gwen Nichols from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

As LLS’s chief medical officer (CMO), Gwen Nichols, M.D., plays a critical role in advancing cures through a unique combination of clinical, academic and pharmaceutical experience. She oversees LLS’s scientific research portfolio, patient services and policy and advocacy initiatives. A physician and scientific researcher, she has dedicated her career to advancing cures for cancers.

Most recently, Nichols was oncology site head of the Roche Translational Clinical Research Center, where she worked to develop new cancer therapies, translating them from the laboratory to clinical trials. Prior to joining Roche in 2007, Nichols was at Columbia University for more than ten years, where she served as the director of the Hematologic Malignancies Program.

While at Columbia University, Nichols maintained an active clinical practice and received the prestigious honors of “Physician of the Year” from Columbia University and the “Humanism in Medicine Award” from the American Association of Medical Colleges.

Nichols trained in internal medicine at the University of Chicago and completed post-doctoral research and a hematology-oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center where she was an attending physician. She received her medical degree with honors from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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