From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders

June 30, 2020

cancer research OHC

Jody Picagli, OHC clinical trial patient Henry Picagli and OHC’s James H. Essell, MD

More Americans are beating cancer thanks to the dedication of the many heroes behind cancer research.

In the U.S., the cancer death rate has steadily declined over the past 26 years. It dropped by an average of 1.5% per year between 2008 and 2017. This translates to an astounding 2.9 million cancer deaths that have been avoided since 1991. This improvement would not have been possible without cancer research.

Cancer research identifies causes and develops strategies for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure of cancer. Behind these advancements are doctors, researchers, nurses, research assistants, data, pharmacy, finance and regulatory coordinators, and patients. They contribute countless hours and sometimes sacrifice their personal lives in the search for new and better cancer treatments. OHC spoke with members of its nationally-recognized research department to understand why research is so important and what drives them to search for better treatments and ultimately a cure.

“As an oncologist, I know all too well that there’s nothing easy about receiving a cancer diagnosis. Patients are always eager to start the most effective treatment as soon as possible, and it’s my job to determine the best path forward and stand with them along the way,” said James H. Essell, MD, medical oncologist, hematologist and transplant specialist. “OHC has been conducting scientific research, including Phase I-IV clinical trials, for many years. And it’s because of our impressive research team at OHC and their dedication to bringing an end to cancer, that we are able to offer patients early access to ground-breaking treatments.”

One of those ground-breaking treatments is chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR-T. OHC is the only adult cancer group in the region to offer this treatment for adults with blood cancers. And, par for the course, OHC has three clinical trials evaluating an expanded use of CAR-T so more patients with different cancers can benefit from it.

“The science behind CAR-T is amazing, and it has brought hope to patients who had few options left,” Dr. Essell added. “We’ve seen positive results with CAR-T treatments and with our CAR-T clinical trials, we hope to see more patients now and in the future benefit from it.”

Helping future patients is one reason Eric J. Clayton, MS, MPH, Director of Clinical Research at OHC, has devoted his career to cancer research.

“We think about patients who are here in front of us today as well as our future patients,” he explained. “The research we’re doing today will lead to the development of treatments with a higher rate of success, milder side effects, and improved quality of life. They will give a greater hope for the best possible outcome for future patents.”

The opportunity to help future cancer patients is a common reason many OHC patients – the real heroes behind research – enroll in clinical trials.

“Dr. Essell told my wife and me about the CAR-T clinical trials OHC was offering for patients in my exact situation. I was immediately all-in for two reasons. Obviously, I want to live, but I also want others to benefit from what I’m doing. Even if it only helps one person,” said OHC patient Henry Picagli who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“In my mind, our patients are the real heroes because without them, research would stop. They are selflessly giving their time and energy to ensure future generations have better lives,” Eric noted. “Even though they may benefit from the treatments being evaluated, they also play a critical role in bringing these new medicines to the rest of the world.”

That was the case for J.P. Heiremans, who was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer in 2011. Two years after his diagnosis, OHC’s Cynthia C. Chua, MD, medical oncologist and hematologist, told J.P. about a clinical trial with a promising new treatment for lung cancer that was being offered at OHC. As a result of JP’s and other patients’ response to the drug being studied, the FDA approved nivolumab (Opdivo) for the treatment of squamous cell lung cancer. It is now used worldwide for lung cancer and has been expanded for use with other cancers.

“I realized maybe this is something I can do that will make a difference in someone else’s life. Whatever they learn from me hopefully can help others,” said J.P.

Michele Seiwert, a research data coordinator at OHC, wishes her mom had had the same outlook as J.P.

“I lost my mother to colon cancer. She didn’t believe what we were told about research and clinical trials. She thought [the potential treatment] was too good to be true, so she didn’t try it. I wish she had because now, working at OHC as part of the research team, I see miracles every day thanks to our research and clinical trials,” said Michele.

“For me, as long as one person has cancer, I will continue our efforts until we discover a cure for everyone and every type of cancer,” said David M. Waterhouse, MD, MPH, medical oncologist, hematologist and co-director of research at OHC. “The critical advancements and patient outcomes we are seeing fuel our passion and support for cancer research and clinical trials at OHC. It’s the reason I wake up in the morning. It’s what I think about when I go to bed. It’s my calling.”

Adds Patrick J. Ward, MD, PhD, medical oncologist, hematologist and co-director of research at OHC, “Clinical trials and research are important because every treatment starts in a clinical trial. All the treatments we use today – they all started in clinical trials. Therefore, it stands to reason that when a cure for cancer is found, you can bet it will be in a clinical trial.”

You can read more about OHC’s cancer research and clinical trials program and the heroes behind it, or request a second opinion, here .

Pictured above, OHC patient J.P. Heiremans and OHC’s Cynthia C. Chua, MD

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