Monday, August 25, 2014

Approval of Imbruvica Frontline for 17p deleted CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia) and Important Trials

It's old news (July 28, 2014), but worthy of some reflection that ibrutinib ( PCI-32765 or Imbruvica) was approved frontline in CLL for those of unfortunate enough to have a deletion of the short (petite or p) arm of chromosome 17.

The p53 gene lives on the 17p arm so when it's deleted, there's missing p53. Without functional p53, cancer cells don't die very easily of apoptosis, the programmed death pathway built into all cells that allows them to suicide when they get too old to function, or in the case of our leukemic cells, become increasingly aberrant and dysfunctional. Without  the tumor suppressing p53 gene, the "guardian of the genome", protecting and repairing our DNA and if that fails, then starting to fire up the self destruction pathway, our cancer continues to grow and mutate and get weirder and more aggressive and difficult to treat.

Most chemotherapy works with the help of p53, first damaging the DNA itself, but then needing the p53 to take it from there by recognizing the overwhelming damage and then persuading the injured cell to die. No p53, and we get just the  chemo induced DNA damage, but the cell can live on and even reproduce faulty clones of itself. That is one reason 17p deletion carries such a bad prognosis.

Until we had ibrutinib (and now also idelalisib or Zydelig), our choices for treating 17p deleted CLL were poor- There were and are a few other therapies that do their killing independent of p53 induced cell suicide. Campath works if you don't have any big nodes, but comes with high infection risks. HDMP (high dose methylprednisolone) + R (rituximab) and flavoperidol and even lenalidomide helped some.

No great choices, until now.

I quote from the press release about the trial that lead to the ibrutinib approval:

At baseline, the median age of these patients was 67 years, 58% of whom had at least one tumor  >  5 cm, and 32% of whom had the del 17p mutation. Patients receiving IMBRUVICA demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival (PFS), overall survival (OS) and overall response rate (ORR) as compared to patients treated with ofatumumab. The median PFS and OS has not been reached on the IMBRUVICA arm. There was a 78% statistically significant reduction in the risk of progression or death as assessed by an independent review committee (IRC) according to the modified IWCLL criteria (HR 0.22, 95% CI, 0.15 to 0.32). In addition, the analysis of overall survival demonstrated a 57% statistically significant reduction in the risk of death for patients in the IMBRUVICA arm (HR 0.43; 95 CI, 0.24 to 0.79). This was observed despite a total of 57 patients who were initially randomized to ofatumumab crossing over to receive IMBRUVICA prior to the analysis. For previously treated del 17p CLL patients, there was a 75% reduction in the risk of progression or death as assessed by an IRC (HR 0.25, 95% CI, 0.14 to 0.45).

Ibrutinib seems to do well on all the folks like me with a missing 17p chromosome on our FISH test, and probably even better for the treatment naive 17p deleted patient. Here is another abstract from the NIH on the subject.

This is good news, right now for just those 17p deletion frontline, but I hope it is only the beginning.

I believe these drugs and others in the pipeline need to be available to all appropriate treatment naive patients, not just those with 17p deletion.

It shouldn't be that most of us have to fail chemo first before being offered less toxic options. The ibrutinib data from the earliest trials suggest those who get ibrutinib upfront before any chemo do the best.

That is why there are some really important clinical trials out there to consider for those who will soon be needing their first treatment for their CLL. Here are a few of my favorites.

With ibrutinib or Imbruvica:

Rituximab and Bendamustine Hydrochloride, Rituximab and Ibrutinib, or Ibrutinib Alone in Treating Older Patients With Previously Untreated Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Ibrutinib and Rituximab Compared With Fludarabine Phosphate, Cyclophosphamide, and Rituximab in Treating Patients With Untreated Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia or Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma

With idelalisib or Zydelig or CAL101: 

A Study of Idelalisib (GS1101CAL101) + Ofatumumab in Previously Untreated CLL/SLL

A Study of Idelalisib and Rituximab in Elderly Patients With Untreated CLL or SLL

Efficacy and Safety of Idelalisib in Combination With Bendamustine and Rituximab in Subjects With Previously Untreated Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

With ABT-199 or GDC-0199:

A Study of GDC-0199 (ABT-199) in Combination With Obinutuzumab in Patients With Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

This is by no means a complete list. There are at least 222 trials when you search untreated CLL on Clinicaltrials.gov.

These trials are critical so we can finally prove, as I suspect, that moving these drugs upfront and avoiding chemo all together, is our best course for a long and healthy life.

There are a few other exciting early trials using ROR1 for relapsed disease that Dr. Kipps will be discussing in my next post, an interview from ASCO. ROR1 may prove to be the holy grail of a marker that is truly unique to the CLL cells, making it the perfect target for an anti-cancer drug.

This is with a very exciting and very specific antibody developed by Dr. Kipps' team at UCSD. It should be opening very soon.

This is from Dr. Wierda's team at MDACC and CLL Global Alliance, building on the promising work out of U. Penn with CART-T cells directed at the much less specific CD19.

Both these are phase 1 trials with all the risks and possible breakthroughs that come with being early to a new therapy. My ibrutinib trial, though later in development, was still a phase 1/2 trial.

There are growing choices out there for those of us facing therapy for the first time, and for those who have relapsed. 

Clinical trials are the only way our knowledge can grow, and the only way these drugs will ever become widely available.

And clinical trials are for many of us, especially in frontline settings, the only path to getting these new agents. 

Speaking of new drugs being available, July 28 was also the date that the FDA gave final approval for Ibrutinib for those who have received one prior therapy. The accelerated conditional approval six months ago had been based on phase 2 data, the final approval looked at the big phase 3 RESONATE trial data.

More from Dr. Kipps on ROR1 soon from our interview at ASCO 2014.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Death of Robin Williams: A Failure of Imagination and what it means to those of us with CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and other Cancers

The death of Robin Williams casts a long pall over millions of us, myself included.

How does the amazing and uplifting humor such as produced by Robin Williams' frenetic imagination and heroic real time risk taking come from one who told himself that he had run out of options? He died because he couldn't imagine a way out of his pain: a guy who made his living with his quick and witty ability to see and go where others couldn't.

Laughter has the ability to both heal and wound, to teach and deride. Mr. William's energy always seemed positive and honest. Despite that honesty, I never heard the pain in his material. Could he so compartmentalize his life? What was hidden and what was revealed? Was that dividing line getting dangerously porous? Was his light coming from a dark place? Did something snap? Did he give so much that he believed that there was nothing left for himself?  Was there a tipping point in his brain chemistry? I have seen depressions so deep, chemical balances so disturbed, that life and death get mixed up in the patients' head. Beside cancer and heart disease, psychiatric illness is a not so hidden killer.

It is the unexpected, the unimagined that rocks our world. How could he be so depressed, and so funny and by all accounts so kind at the same time?

It makes no sense. And it's so sad. I am left holding straws. What I thought was solid ground was either smoke and mirror or quicksand.

The drunk and/or broken artist is a worn out archetype, but is it?

Robin Williams' death has given me and millions of others a chance to stop and figure it all out, again. What does it all mean? What really counts?

We who live with cancer on the inside know too well how surface appearances can be deceiving. We keep going by imagining a different future. The cancer doesn't have to be our only driver. Our will and imagination can move us forward. We must keep those going and when we can't do it on our own, we must ask for help. Or better yet, help someone else. Or at least go for a long walk in the woods or on the beach and put off any irreversible decisions for another day when we are on more solid ground and can see and imagine more clearly. Just as we must be proactive in how we prevent and manage the visible complications of our leukemia such as infections or secondary cancers, we must be prepared to deal with that equally deadly if less obvious killer, depression.

So stay strong. And always remember that we are in this together.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

When Sportswriters Cover the Cancer Beat: The Uneven Reporting of the Bob McNair CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and Skin Cancer Story


The owners of the NFL team, the Texans, Bob McNair has come out and shared his successful battle with CLL and a very aggressive squamous cell (skin) cancer.  The newspapers in Texas were full of the good news, but they didn't quite get the CLL piece right.
Please take a look at this news report:

Texans owner McNair gets clean bill of health after cancer fight

Or check out:
"McNair's remarkable recovery has included ground-breaking experimental treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)…"
I want some of whatever that is.
Here is my published comment in response to the article:
Good news. While Mr. McNair's skin cancer may be curable, not so with his blood cancer, CLL. At least not yet, however, it is often controllable with therapy. Since CLL weakens the immunity, it can make skin cancers more aggressive. The message here is that anyone with CLL and many other cancers needs to be particularly careful about their sun exposure and vigilant in checking their skin for any suspicious lesions. Sadly one cancer, especially CLL, can lead to another.
Turns out a few of the sportswriters got a bit scrambled in their understanding of the management of his slow moving CLL versus his aggressive skin cancer that spread well beyond the skin requiring extensive and repeated surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and eventually skin grafting.
The press conference with Dr. Michael Keating out of MDACC (MD Anderson Cancer Center) tells a clearer story with the full transcript at this link. Dr. Keating has a long and broad view of what we CLL patients need and I am glad he is a leader on our Team CLL. I also love the way he can generated much needed publicity about our cancer that seems to spend most of its life in the shadows, avoiding the bright lights and headlines.
The ground-breaking experimental treatment mentioned in the report was pheresis or more commonly called apheresis and its experimental use is to increase our wimpy immune response and lower our high risk of secondary cancers and their reoccurrence. 
Dr. Keating explains it at the press conference:
"You’re all aware that there’s an increased instance of melanoma that occurs because of tanning beds and things like this, but the most common forms of skin cancers are Basil Cell cancer and Squamous Cell cancer and many people like Mr. McNair have more frequent visits to their dermatologists than to the other members of their families sometimes because they keep on coming back. So the one element of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia or CLL, which is the most common leukemia that we see in the western world, is that there is a complex suppression of the immune system and the only non-AFDA approved activity was part of an extension of a protocol where we could take immune cells out by a process called apheresis, where you go through a machine and you take white cells out and separate the immune cells and then stimulate them up a thousand fold so they go to one-hundred-million to one-hundred-billion and give them back and rebuild the immune system to try and prevent these events from occurring."
Looks as if the transcribers may have missed a few key words and phrases.
A few reflections on what we can learn from the news.
1: Another celebrity, Bob McNair, the owner of a proud NFL team, tells the world he has CLL and skin cancer. Of course I wish he had shared the CLL news earlier, perhaps even at the time of diagnosis in order to help remove the cancer stigma and demonstrate how well he continued to live his active life for many years post diagnosis. I recognize that sharing a cancer diagnosis is a complex and very personal decision. Still I wish he had told the world when he was in the battle and not after it was at least partially over, but still I am grateful for his thoughtful and generous comments to the media about his two cancers and the treatment. I have posted extensively on this subject and received many lively comments on the decision to share the news or shut up. This link will get get you started if you wanted to revisit that topic.
2: We CLL patients are all at heightened risks for skin cancers and even the usually well behaved ones can become very nasty with our suppressed immunity. We get more cancer and the cancers we get are more aggressive. We need to use our sunscreen and our hats and have a full body skin check (and that really means full body) at least once or twice a year. See this prior post on secondary cancer risk with CLL (and CT scans).
3: MDACC and others are working hard on ways to improve our immunity. We need that. Dr. Wierda talked about his immune boosting research last year in this post. Remember that it is secondary cancer and infections that kill the majority of us that arise as a result of our weakened immunity from the disease itself and its old school chemo treatments. No point of knocking the CLL back and then dying of a secondary problem.
4: Sportswriters should stick to covering sports. Or if not, get some help and fact checking. Many otherwise fine reporters when covering cancer go for the feel good story. I guess they get tired of writing about the bad news and dirty laundry the rest of the time. That's nice, but it is not the whole picture. I promise I won't write on sports (except maybe a little about my beloved LA Kings and ice hockey) if they won't write on CLL. You don't need a medical degree to be a good medical reporter, but it sure helps. If not, then please do your research or ask for help and please tell the whole story, the good and bad.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Zydelig: The Black Box Warnings for use in CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia), SLL (Small Lymphocytic Lymphoma), and Follicular Lymphoma

Before you get very far into the Zydelig (CAL 101 or GS 1101 or idelasilib) label,  you come across a big bold black box warning.

WARNING: FATAL AND SERIOUS TOXICITIES: HEPATIC, SEVERE DIARRHEA, COLITIS, PNEUMONITIS, and INTESTINAL PERFORATION

See full prescribing information for complete boxed warning.

  • Fatal and/or serious hepatotoxicity occurred in 14% of Zydelig- treated patients. Monitor hepatic function prior to and during treatment. Interrupt and then reduce or discontinue Zydelig. (5.1)
  • Fatal and/or serious and severe diarrhea or colitis occurred in 14% of Zydelig-treated patients. Monitor for the development of severe diarrhea or colitis. Interrupt and then reduce or discontinue Zydelig. (5.2)
  • Fatal and serious pneumonitis can occur in Zydelig-treated patients. Monitor for pulmonary symptoms and bilateral interstitial infiltrates. Interrupt or discontinue Zydelig. (5.3)
  • Fatal and serious intestinal perforation can occur in Zydelig- treated patients across clinical trials. Discontinue Zydelig if intestinal perforation is suspected. (5.4) 

That kind of warning should and does give most patients and doctors pause before proceeding. And that's a good thing. But we also need some perspective.

While black box warnings are the strongest language that the FDA can put on a label, it is focused on the worst of the worst and not necessarily on common problems.

Our old friend, the rather gentle giant in the CLL world, rituximab has multiple black box warnings (as it should):

From the Rituxan label:


WARNING: FATAL INFUSION REACTIONS, SEVERE MUCOCUTANEOUS REACTIONS, HEPATITIS B VIRUS REACTIVATION and PROGRESSIVE MULTIFOCAL LEUKOENCEPHALOPATHY
See full prescribing information for complete boxed warning.
  •   Fatal infusion reactions within 24 hours of Rituxan infusion; approximately 80% of fatal reactions occurred with first infusion. Monitor patients and discontinue Rituxan infusion for severe reactions (5.1).
  •   Severe mucocutaneous reactions, some with fatal outcomes (5.2).
  •   Hepatitis B virus (HBV) reactivation, in some cases resulting in fulminant hepatitis, hepatic failure, and death (5.3).
  •   Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) resulting in death (5.4).
Each one of those problems can kill us (PML has a 90% mortality rate, worse than Ebola) and if it doesn't cause our demise, leave us badly shaken and permanently damaged. But those concerns are thankfully relatively rare and it hasn't stop me or many others from enjoying the real benefits of rituximab.

Black boxes are found on many labels. Even common antidepressant medications come with a black box warning for the rare but obviously critically important issue of increased risk of suicide in those patients younger than 24.

For Zydelig, the serious liver issues and severe diarrhea and colitis occurred in one out of every seven patients in their trials. Not so rare. Colitis is miserable and can be fatal. Fortunately, the other, generally more life threatening, adverse events are less common.

Gilead have instituted a FDA mandated REMS (Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy) program. Using this link and further links found on that webpage, you can see how serious the FDA and Gilead are about staying ahead of these potential problems for us patients.

They are being proactive. The fine print in the package insert gives strict guidelines on monitoring and what do based on what the patient's conditions and the lab test are telling the doctor. And most problems can be reversed if the patient and clinician are on their game and respond quickly and appropriately when there's a signal of an emerging problem. After a period off the drug, many of us can safely restart it at a reduced dose and continue to do get the benefits.

This is yet another reason to be choosy about who is managing your CLL. Please pick a doctor who is experienced with CLL and with the new medications so that he or she is on top of all the good and all the possible bad associated with them.

CLL is itself risky. Doing nothing is not an option for many of us.

FCR is no cakewalk. BR is not much better. Lenalidomide comes with a host of its own unique nasty issues.

But all of these drugs and and other drug combinations have saved lives. We can not afford to be therapeutic nihilists because we have no guaranteed safe choices.

Carefully read the label. Ask your doctor. Insist on the correct monitoring. Report any and all problems promptly.

Odds are heavily in our favor. Have perspective.

One place I do see as an advantage for idelalisib at this time is that there it has no warning on the label about bleeding in association with anticoagulants as there is with ibrutinib. By the way, Imbruvica has no black box warnings. The bleeding issues with Imbruvica are being studied more as they are not presently fully understood. Time will tell, but there is reason to believe that most of the bleeding/bruising problems may be simply increased bruising that is more a cosmetic than a health issue. Still, at this time, Zydelig has no such caution and Imbruvica does.

As I said in my last post, we are so lucky to have this choice of two new potent oral medicines that are targeted at our cancer.

To borrow from my dear friend and patient advocate, WWW: May our paths be well chosen.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

FDA Approval of Idelalisib (or CAL-101 or GS-1101 or now Zydelig) for CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia), SLL (small lymphocytic lymphoma) and FL (follicular lymphoma)


ME AND A GIANT TREE
SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK

It was another good week for those of us with CLL/SLL and our friends with Follicular Lymphoma (FL).

CAL-101 AKA GS-1101 AKA idelalisib AKA Zydelig (See Dr. Sharman's post on the name game and his positive early experience with the drug) was approved last week by the FDA for relapsed CLL patients who would be consider candidates for rituximab (R) and for FL and SLL patients who have had 2 prior therapies.

I quote from the label:

----INDICATIONS AND USAGE---------------------------
Zydelig is a kinase inhibitor indicated for the treatment of patients with:
            􏰅  Relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), in combination with rituximab, in patients for whom rituximab alone would be considered appropriate therapy due to other co-morbidities. (1.1)
            􏰅  Relapsed follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (FL) in patients who have received at least two prior systemic therapies. (1.2)
            􏰅  Relapsed small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) in patients who have received at least two prior systemic therapies. (1.3)
Let’s pause and consider this.
A few things should catch our attention and this post is about parsing this first part of the label..
First idelalisib is approved as mono-therapy for SLL or small lymphocytic lymphoma (and FL), but not CLL. With CLL it is only approved for use with rituximab. Moreover, for CLL we can use it on label if we have relapsed after one treatment, but for SLL (and FL), idelalisib must be at least our third therapy.
But aren’t CLL and SLL essentially the same disease? Though we may be starting to tease apart the biology of this pairing (see this article expectedly from Serbia: (Possible role of CD22, CD79b andCD20 expression in distinguishing small lymphocytic lymphoma from chroniclymphocytic leukemia; Danijela Jovanovic, Predrag Djurdjevic, Nebojsa Andjelkovic, LjubicaZivic Contemp Oncol (Pozn) 2014; 18 (1): 29–33 DOI: 10.5114/wo.2013.38570), in almost all practical circumstances, there is no distinction between CLL and SLL and we treat the two diseases as one entity. Until now, with perhaps the one exception to consider possibly curative surgery and/or local radiation for SLL when it is only found in a single node, treatment was the same whether our malignant B cell clone was strictly nodal or it had spilled over into the peripheral blood and marrow.
Now, if we are going to strictly follow the language on the Zydelig label, we will have for the first time both a different indication for treatment and a different treatment protocol for CLL and SLL.
While this is an interesting point, it is probably of little clinical import as SLL recurring three times as strictly nodal would be rare. Idelalisib might be a good choice, but ironically this is exactly where I personally would want to use it in combination, likely with antibody or even chemotherapy.
Next point.
For those of us with CLL, idelalisib is approved after our first relapse. This is different than the CLL indication for ibrutinib, where we only need to have received a single prior therapy and due perhaps to an adverse reaction or intolerance, are now looking for another treatment options but may not have relapsed. (The label says: IMBRUVICA™ is indicated for the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) who have received at least one prior therapy.) Although the most common circumstance leading to a prescription of Imbruvica would still be relapse, it is possible that some of us couldn’t tolerate FCR or Chlorambucil or other treatments and then still needing some sort of therapy for our progressive CLL, but not having relapsed, would now qualify for Imbruvica but not for Zydelig.
This too would be a rare but possible occurrence.
The last item to be considered in the “Indications and Usage” of Zydelig quoting the label again is indicated, for relapsed CLL in combination with Rituximab:
….in patients for whom rituximab alone would be considered appropriate therapy due to other co-morbidities.
Who are these patients? What relapsed patient would ever be offered single agent R? Hard to imagine mono-therapy with rituximab where the response rate as a single agent in relapsed disease is dismal, ironically confirmed in the idelalisib pivotal trial where only 13% of those in the rituximab plus placebo arm got any benefit from treatment.
Before dismissing out of hand this possibility, there are several realities to consider.
First and foremost, the FDA approved the drug based on the trial data it was presented.
The FL and SLL gang were two subpopulations of a larger pool of patients with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL) that were studied. The data that the FDA used was from that lymphoma patient trial where everyone had to have received at least two prior therapies to be included. Of all those studied, these two subgroups, FL and SLL, responded very nicely to single agent idelalisib, hence the language of the approval.
For the CLL trial group, the phase III study was for patients who were considered too frail based on their co-morbidities (chronic kidney disease and others) for chemo-immunotherapy and thus would be considered for rituximab alone. The results of idelalisb with rituximab versus rituximab alone were, as we all would expect, very impressive.
Are the “Indications and Usage” starting to make sense?  This is the same reasoning that that explains why we have Gazyva only approved for use with Chlorambucil.  That's the way it was studied.


The FDA approvals tend to stick pretty closely to the exact way the drug was studied and thus the pharmaceutical companies tend to reap what they sow.
This is not as crazy as it seems on first blush. It can be dangerous to extrapolate data and the FDA has been burnt too often not be conservative. I am in fact impressed with the speed and the use of the new breakthrough pathways has allowed these important novel drugs to get to market so quickly.
In fact the Zydelig label also adds:

Accelerated approval was granted for FL and SLL based on overall response rate. Improvement in patient survival or disease related symptoms has not been established. Continued approval for these indications may be contingent upon verification of clinical benefit in confirmatory trials.
As to the actual reasons for the pivotal CLL trial design, I discussed with Dr. Sharman and Dr. Furman in this and this past post about the strong trial data that lead to approval for CLL published in the NEJM and presented at ASH 2013. There are times when single agent rituximab might be considered for relapsed disease in the elderly or frail “slow-go” patients that could not tolerate chemo-immunotherapy. While most if not all CLL gurus that you see interviewed here on my blog and quoted elsewhere on the web, would rarely, if ever use single agent R, it is the real world treatment of choice for about 8% of all relapsed patient in the community. Rituximab maintenance which I discussed a few years back in this post, is also frowned upon by most experts, but is used 9% of the time. 
So again, what seems at first to be a strange qualifier on the relapsed CLL indication label, I suspect won’t prove to be much problem to us patients.
Moreover, how the doctors prescribe them and how insurance pays for them is a whole other topic.
Once it is approved, remember that a doctor can use it however he or she wishes.
Which is a good segue to my final subjects for this post.
Before I finish on this very good news, I wanted to share even more good news by means of this link to the Gilead website that will assist any one considering this important new drug. As does Pharmacyclics, Gilead is offering to help commercial and uninsured patients with practical and generous financial support to make this expensive breakthrough drug more affordable. It is also priced a full $1,000 lower per month that ibrutinib, but that doesn’t consider the additional cost of rituximab. Still cheaper is better.
Unfortunately, like all pharmaceutical companies, even if they wanted to, Gilead cannot directly help Medicare Part D patients. They do nice job explaining the financial hit a Medicare patient faces on their website here.

What they can do is support independent non-profit organizations such as LLS that can then offer financial assistance for both eligible federally-insured and privately-insured patients who need help covering out-of-pocket medication costs. On the LLS site, the income must be below 500% of the federal poverty guidelines, but for a family of four, that is anything below $119,250. 

For more details from Gilead and a number to call on how those of us with government insurance might qualify for financial aid, check here: There is of course no guarantee that help will be provided. Resources are limited, but it is certainly worth investigating.

And here is a link to active idelalisib trials. The expanded access program closed for new enrollees in the USA with Zydelig's approval, but will continue for those already enrolled. 
So in the end, good news. We all need more options, and now we have two great oral medications, both with strong help for most of us from their manufacturers to offset the considerable cost.
I will post more soon on how I see Zydelig fitting in, the the black box warnings and its strength and weakness, but for now I am just so happy we have this new weapon in our arsenal.
Thanks to all of you who volunteered for the trials that helped speed its approval. If appropriate, don't forget to consider trials for these two drugs and for several others existing antibodies and TKIs in the pipeline.
It is a good time in the CLL world and it will only continue to get better, quickly.
Only a few days later after this good news, Imbruvica was approved for front line therapy for those of us with 17p deletion. That is giant. More on that important expanded indication in another post soon. 
Much reason to celebrate as we now have two new powerful oral medications to help us live longer and better.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

ASCO 2014: Dr. Kipps Discusses Targeted Therapy and Obinutuzumab in the Treatment of CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia)

In the first brief section of my video interview from ASCO 2014, Dr. Tom Kipps, my personal doctor at UCSD, and mentions the buzz about ibrutinib (IMBRUVICA) at the meeting and then moves on to discuss obinutuzumab (GAZYVA) the new and exciting monoclonal antibody (mAb). He adds to what we learned from Dr. Byrd in this prior post from ASH 2013 and shares his subtly different take on how this powerful new addition to our CLL arsenal works.

My hunch is that it will prove to be much bigger step forward from rituximab (R) than was ofatumumab  (ARZERRA). That much anticipated next generation CD 20 mAb has disappointingly made at best some small incremental improvement for us CLL patients compared to the giant leap that we witnessed just a few years ago when the mother of all CD 20 antibodies, R was added to FC to give us the present "gold standard" of FCR. Ofatumumab does offer a possible helpful option for those of us who can not tolerate R.

Obinutuzumab is clearly proving to be a better antibody. As I covered in this more detailed post and interview from ASH 2013 with Dr. Brown, GAZYA is the first antibody that showed a clear survival advantage over rituximab albeit in combination with chlorambucil.

At ASCO 2014, we learned more. This abstract shows us that as a single agent in untreated patients, obinutuzumab had impressive response rates and even some complete remissions. This almost never happens with the other older CD 20 antibodies. I am pretty excited about all these results.

We already know that adding an antibody to almost any chemo agent makes that chemotherapy work better and explains why chemo-immunotherapy has become the backbone of the present treatment protocols in CLL/SLL and other lymphomas.

What we don't know yet is how this concept of adding a mAb will evolve in the coming era of oral therapies with small molecules such as ibrutinib and idelalisib and later on ABT-199. More on this in future posts.

Here is the first part of my interview with Dr. Kipps.

Listen to the lovely way that he describes how the different type antibodies works.



More to come soon on ROR-1.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More Good News- Update on My Lab, CT Scans, and General CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) Status

My blog has veered far away from the simple telling of my story to more telling of our stories with much B roll.

I am making plans to maybe bifurcate its content in the future, but for now it will continue its happy and diverse life as a personal health blog, a home for research news and video and audio interviews with leading researchers, and a whole bunch of personal analysis and advocacy on what it all means.

I am back from Ohio State where I am still seeing the research team every 3 months and getting CT scans every six months for my clinical trial on ibrutinib. I have riffed on this being too much radiation before in this prior post that includes links to some of the basic research of radiation exposure and its risks, but Dr. Byrd argues that the few relapses he sees on ibrutinib show up first in the nodes, so he wants to monitor me with the scans.

True enough. When I relapsed post failed hematopoeitic stem cell transplant in 2008, the nodes were my canary in the coal mine showing slight growth months before my lymphocyte counts started to move up and my platelets down.

So twice a year CTs are still the plot line for my clinical trial at OSU.

Since diagnosed in 2005, I have probably had about two dozen CT scans!

Add to that the equivalent of the 20 chest X-rays annually I get from flying over 100,000 miles a year, and my risk of secondary cancer is significant. This link with a NASA produced video tells the air travel part of the story.

If you really want to worry, take a look at this article from Medscape on CT scans in NHL.

But this post is not about the danger of CT scans, but about what my last one showed and happily that was stable disease.

I still have enlarged lymph nodes but they have changed little since October of 2012, or for the last 20 of my total of 25 plus months on ibrutinib. My largest sentinel gut node near my liver was about 10 cm at its peak, 7.3 x 3.3 cm just before starting ibrutinib, 4.4 x 0.7 cm in October, 2012 after about 6 months on the medication, then it shrunk to its shortest 3.9 x 0.7 three months later and when last measured on June 30, 2014 was 4.4 x 0.4 which actually represents its lowest volume. It has been fluctuating and when you account for the difficulty of measuring mobile objects in the mesentery and near the liver, is mostly stable since its dramatic shrinking in the first 6 months of therapy. Its a long hot dog shaped node instead of the more common bean shape. The same early dramatic shrinking in the first six months and slight ups and downs since has been the tale for my other smaller sentinel nodes on the scans.

So I have pretty stable disease.

What does this mean to still have enlarged nodes and a touch of CLL in my blood (see this prior post from last April on my flow cytometry report to understand more about my numbers and disease burden)?

The CLL does not proliferate in our blood, so the disease in our nodes and bone marrow are the source of all our problems and I will ignore the blood for now.

There is good reason to believe that these enlarged nodes are still full of CLL, but that it is not proliferating, thanks to the signal blocking from ibrutinib preventing it from getting the messages from its nurse like cells and others to be fruitful and multiply. So chock full of CLL, but it's dormant.

The other more positive interpretation is that these enlarged nodes are just the scarred down skeletons of the cancerous nodes they once were, and there is no residual disease to be found. Unfortunately, I am skeptical of this more PolyAnna hypothesis, and short of a biopsy which is not going to happen, there is not way to know for sure.

So what to do to avoid waking the Kraken?

Hope my genomic instability as evidenced by my 17p and 11q deletions and my complex karyotype will continue to behave with the ibrutinib aboard and not mutate so that my magical bullet no longer covalently binds BTK and blocks its activity?

Knock down the residual disease by adding a second or even a third agent?

Be reactive or proactive?

That is the question du jour faced by many of us now and more in the future whose CLL is controlled but it is not gone now with the new medications such as ibrutinib and idelalisib.

I have probed this recurring and unanswered question in more detail a prior post, and will soon be updating my thoughts on how to avoid being left stranded on third base and not getting home to a cure.

The rest of my news is also good.

My blood counts are boring and despite dropping my cyclosporin to a token dose of only 25 mgs once a day and stretching my 40 grams of IVIG infusions to every 7-8 weeks, my ITP also remains dormant. I think the possible immune stabilizing activity of ibrutinib and my low disease burden may be the factors  that have given me this long ride with high normal platelet counts. I have not been anemic for many months now and my neutrophils and the rest of the CBC are all copasetic. My blood chemistries are in the normal range and only my very low immunoglobulins, namely IGA, IGM, and IGG give proof to that fact that I still have a B cell leukemia, albeit a very sleepy and well behaved one.

More personal clinical and general CLL news soon, nearly all of it good.

I will be posting some of my interviews from ASCO 2014, plus sharing some exciting advocacy news. Busy times.

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