Thursday, April 8, 2021

Dr. John Byrd’s Exciting Move to the University of Cincinnati: The significance for me and other CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) patients

I have known Dr. John Byrd since we met at ASH in 2011 and he has been my chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) doctor most of that time.

It would not be a stretch to say that his care in a Phase I/II trial of PCI-32765 (ibrutinib) at Ohio State University in Columbus saved my life.

It would also not be fair if it weren’t mentioned that I have been blessed with excellent care from several other doctors. These have included superstar Dr. Tom Kipps, Drs. Sanjay Sharma (hematology), David Rhodes (family medicine), many local healthcare providers, and a recent addition to my team, CLL expert Dr. Alexey Danilov. There have been many others across the US and from around the world who have generously nudged me or shared breaking news pertinent to my circumstances, even when I was not their patient or had only seen them once many years ago. These consultations have been led by Dr. Furman and have included Drs. Kanti Rai, John Pagel, Adrian Weistner, Michael Hallek, Stephen Forman, and Neil Kay.

While I have been lucky to know so many world-class CLL doctors, for the last 10 years, Dr. Byrd has been my go-to clinician and the final arbitrator of many split decisions in my treatment journey. 

We have become good friends over the past decade, which has been eventful and revolutionary for chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients. Today we had a long talk about a very personal matter that affects me and could have a direct impact on hundreds of CLL patients. 

Dr. Byrd recently accepted the position of Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati and will be starting there on July 1, 2021. The University of Cincinnati press release can be found here. Dr. Byrd has been at Ohio State University (OSU) for the past 20 years building a strong team focused on research, clinical trials, and care of patients with CLL and other blood cancers.

The OSU CLL team has contributed to improving outcomes for all of us in moving forward with therapies such as ibrutinib, acalabrutinib, and novel drug combinations. Dr. Byrd also has been a mentor to many CLL physicians, best exemplified by the excellent research and clinical care being led by his younger colleagues who will continue carrying out the great work at OSU.

In discussing the reason for the change with Dr. Byrd, it became clear that he is going to the University of Cincinnati with a renewed sense of personal excitement to grow personally as a leader and build an impactful program there that will benefit the lives of many dealing with cancer. 

Dr. Byrd told me how appreciative he was of the years spent at OSU and all the support he received. At the same time, he shared that he realized his personal need for reinvigoration and to make an even bigger impact in the cancer community that he is hoping the University of Cincinnati will provide. 

The University of Cincinnati is next door to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Research Institute, which has the nation’s top pediatric cancer program. The close proximity and relationship will create the perfect opportunity to build bridge programs in multiple areas. This will impact the ability to accelerate new discoveries that will translate to adult cancer patients, which can then be redirected seamlessly back to children’s cancer. The Cincinnati area is the largest US city that does not have a cancer center that has been designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). 

Working with the team at the Barrett Cancer Center in Cincinnati, Dr. Byrd will continue his work in early drug development and translational laboratory research for CLL and other types of cancer. He will also continue expanding precision medicine in blood cancer and be continually reinforcing the charge for empathetic patient-focused care.

Dr. Byrd will continue seeing patients with CLL and other blood cancers as a consultant to other physicians, as a CLL and blood cancer expert collaborating with local doctors on yearly visits (as he has done with many patients over the years), and by providing direct care to CLL patients in Cincinnati. 

While there have been rumors that Dr. Byrd will stop seeing patients, in my discussion with him he assured me that this remains the most exciting and favorite part of his job. He is already working on the paperwork for clinical privileges there and hopes to be active in the clinic by August of this year. He is also excited to have some ability to see Veterans Administration patients since the University of Cincinnati has an associated VA Hospital, unlike OSU. From the time of his military service, Dr. Byrd has had a strong commitment to supporting soldiers and veterans alike. He will continue working with new clinical trials that will be available for his patients to match the expectations he established at OSU.  

He told me that his greatest regret of transitioning to the University of Cincinnati is leaving many patients in Columbus with whom he has established long-term patient relationships. While Dr. Byrd is very comfortable with the abilities of the CLL team at OSU following up on his active patient panel (Drs. Jennifer WoyackKerry RogersAdam Kittai, and Seema Bhat), he is openly welcoming those who decide to follow him to Cincinnati. Dr. Byrd intends to continue collaborating with the CLL team at OSU as well as other individuals (Drs. Jennifer Brown, Deepa Samath, Farrukh Awan, and Deborah Stephens) with whom he has worked over the past two decades on different projects.  

During my discussion with Dr. Byrd, I sensed his excitement about this upcoming transition, the chance to build a new cancer center and to do something special that has the potential to be even more impactful for cancer patients in general, and particularly CLL patients in the future.  

On a personal note, while Dr. Byrd may be taking on new responsibilities across all internal medicine, after our conversation I felt reassured that he will still be directly caring for and researching the best cutting-edge therapies in CLL for myself and all of us for many years to come.

Stay strong.  We are all in this together.


Brian Koffman MDCM (retired) MS Ed

Co-Founder, Executive VP and Chief Medical Officer
CLL Society


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