Breakthroughs in Therapies and Treatments For Blood Cancers

Ian Flinn M.D.

According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), one person in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer approximately every three minutes. An estimated 156,420 people will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma in the nation this year. Also, an estimated 55,350 are expected to die from the blood cancers this year alone. While the statistics are unsettling, clinical investigators are seeing a huge change, not seen in many, many years, in the way these hematologic malignancies are treated. New therapies and treatments are also creating a whole new paradigm, improving patients’ duration and quality of life.

For instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new, exciting targeted therapy called idelalisib (Zydelig®) for patients with relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), relapsed follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (FL) and relapsed small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL). My team at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute (SCRI) and Tennessee Oncology began working with idelalisib more than six years ago. In fact, a patient in Nashville was the first in the world to be treated with the medication.

Idelalisib, a targeted molecule, is a daily, oral medication that replaces aggressive chemotherapy and attacks cancer cells. The side effects of the medication are moderate when compared to traditional chemotherapy. Currently, patients who benefit most from the medication have received prior treatment that was not effective. However, I hope idelalisib will become the best in frontline treatment in the future. It has been very gratifying to see patients respond to the medication in a positive way that improves their lives. At SCRI and Tennessee Oncology, my team is currently working with second and third generation molecules to overcome the weaknesses found in the original drug.

The LLS is an important non-profit organization that is dedicated to fighting blood cancers. I have been very involved with the non-profit organization for several years, particularly its Therapy Acceleration Program. The program obtains funds from various LLS events, helping clinical investigators invest in new medications and get them to patients as soon as possible. The LLS Tennessee Chapter is gearing up for its annual Light the Night® Walk at LP Field on Friday, Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. The event gathers people to honor those who have fought blood cancers, as well as to spotlight the importance of treatments and therapies for blood cancers – most importantly, finding a cure for blood cancers. Fundraising teams are also formed, with every penny raised going toward research for blood cancers. Tennessee Oncology is a gold sponsor for this year’s event, and we have a team fundraising money, as well as walking in the event.

Tennessee Oncology’s Center for Blood Cancers is committed to providing compassionate, ethical and high-quality services to adult patients. These services include: standard treatments, investigational treatment on phase 1-3 clinical research trials with the Sarah Cannon Research Institute and blood and marrow transplant services. Caring for cancer patients is a privilege.