For one Missouri woman, participating in a clinical trial at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center gave her the chance to live a longer, healthier life while keeping her cancer at bay.
Judy Hileman, a 71-year-old Kansas City, Mo., resident, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia on her 70th birthday. After six months of chemotherapy sessions failed to halt her cancer, she came to OSU.
Hileman participated in a clinical study testing a new drug – Imbruvica – and found the treatment prevented the spread of her cancer and gave her fewer and less significant side effects than chemotherapy.
“(With Imbruvica) your energy level is building up so quickly, that you feel perfect. There’s just this little leukemia thing, but otherwise you’re great because you feel so normal,” Hileman said. “It’s amazing.”
Hileman began taking Imbruvica last year. The drug has not only stopped the progress of her leukemia but it has improved her life, she said. According to her oncologist’s determination, if the disease had continued to progress she would have died last December, Hileman said.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the second most common type of leukemia in American adults, is a blood and bone marrow disease that gets worse over time. In 2013, it is estimated that 15,680 Americans were diagnosed with the disease and 4,580 died from it, said Tara Goodin, public affairs specialist for the Food and Drug Administration, in an email Wednesday.
Imbruvica, a drug taken orally, was developed through OSU’s laboratory and clinical work and was approved by the FDA Feb. 12. The drug blocks the enzyme that allows cancerous cells to grow and divide.
The OSU study found a higher portion of participants experienced a decrease or halt in the spreading of their cancer compared to participants taking other treatments, making this drug an attractive alternative to chemotherapy, said Dr. John Byrd, director of hematology at the Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“I’ve been a CLL specialist for 16-plus years and this is the most active drug that’s come into clinics for CLL. It has the potential to completely change how we’re treating CLL,” Byrd said. “We’re not having to use chemotherapy anymore, so it’s really a breakthrough drug.”
Imbruvica can have side effects that include bleeding problems, infections, decrease in blood cell counts, kidney problems and second primary cancers, according to its website.
Not only was OSU behind much of the research and development of this drug, but it has also treated the most patients with this drug. Byrd said people have come from around the country “because the results from the initial trials (were) just so much better than what’s available to them.”
Seeing people alive because of the drug is humbling, he said. Some patients have led healthy lives on the drug for two or more years.
“They’re living their life, they’re back doing their regular things. It’s just very, very special,” Byrd said.
For Hileman, it’s the little things in life that are most significant to have back.
“You want to be able to go buy groceries, you want to be able to walk your grandkids to the bus … It’s just everyday things,” she said. “I just got my life back. It’s hard to believe.”