Home » Clinical Trial » EPatients on the Front Lines: Precision Medicine, the FDA, and Me

EPatients on the Front Lines: Precision Medicine, the FDA, and Me

On February 19, 2015, I was an invited patient advocate speaker at the 11th Annual Moores Cancer Center Industry/Academia Translational Oncology Symposium. My topic, “EPatients on the Front Lines:  Precision Medicine, the FDA, and Me,” explained how cancer research could move faster and be more successful if researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and the biotech industry would collaborate with patients early in the trial design process.

You can see my slides here:

Edit May 7, 2015:  UCSD posted the video of my speech

Here’s the text of the speech, along with the links on the slides.

# Slide Speech
1 Title Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.  I’m going to share a view of precision medicine from the patient’s perspective.  If I seem a bit tense, blame it on the PET scan I’ll have 4 days from now.  I’ll post the speech on my blog tomorrow, so you don’t have to take notes.
2 Genome Scarf This is the legacy of an epatient.  It’s a genome scarf. It represents the chromosome 18 base pair sequence of colonrectal cancer patient Jay Lake.  Jay was a prolific science fiction author and my friend. http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/jay-lake-genome-scarf/
3 Genome Scarf and Jay pic Jay was example of an epatient:  a patient who is Equipped, Engaged, Empowered, and Enabled, whether or not they’re online. In 2011, after several surgeries and chemo regimens, Jay was running out of options.  Friends told him about genomic sequencing and helped him research clinical trials. The science fiction community crowdsourced the funding to sequence and analyze Jay’s personal and cancer genomes. Jay shared his data with NIH researchers for his immunotherapy trial, and with Harvard’s open-source Personal Genome Project.  http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/sequence-a-science-fiction-writer/38705
4 My journey-Diagnosis Like Jay, I’ve pursued cutting-edge scientific research in hopes of living longer with metastatic cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage 3a non-small cell lung cancer in May 2011.  I never smoked anything – except a salmon.
5 My Journey-Progression 1 After a month’s delay to treat pneumonia, I had concurrent chemo and radiation. My primary tumor and lymph nodes all responded. Two months later, a PET scan found a new hotspot on my collarbone. A biopsy confirmed my cancer had progressed.  Since I had severe radiation pneumonitis, my oncologist recommended a break from treatment. In the next three months, I grew a 3-inch mass on my collarbone.
6 My Journey-Progression 2 I had more chemo, followed by more radiation. A new scan showed all the known tumors were gone or dead. BUT … I had two new tumors in my other lung.  I now had metastatic lung cancer. Whenever I stopped treatment, I had a new tumor within two months.  My oncologist told me I would be on chemo for the rest of my life.
7 My journey-Patient as Participant However, I wasn’t just a recipient of care. The information I learned in the Inspire online lung cancer community enabled me to become an interactive participant.  From other epatients, I learned to ask for my data, including radiology and pathology reports.  I also learned more extensive molecular testing was available at other facilities, and arranged to have my slides sent to the University of Colorado Hospital for a 10-oncogene panel. Unfortunately, all tests were negative.
8 My Journey-ROS1 & Trial Here’s where the tone of my story changes.  An online patient told me I fit the profile of patients who had the ROS1 translocation–relatively young, adenocarcinoma, neversmoker, triple negative for the most common mutations.  He sent me the journal article of early trial results.  After my second progression, I contacted University of Colorado again, and learned they had recently developed a ROS1 test.  I gave permission to use my remaining slides.  When I learned my cancer was ROS1 positive, I enrolled in the crizotinib trial in Colorado.
9 My journey-NED Thanks to precision medicine and the online lung cancer community, I’ve had  No Evidence of Disease for over two years. I’m not cured, but life is relatively normal for now–if you ignore the scanxiety every 8 weeks.  I chose to enroll in a trial for treatment in hopes of better option than chemo forever.
10 Smart Patient LC Trials Chart Epatients are very interested in the treatment options available in precision medicine trials, but sometimes we have trouble finding the right ones. New trial finders–like this format created with input from epatients–can help patients find the right treatment at the right time. http://www.smartpatients.com/lung-cancer/trials
11 Purpose of Clinical Trial For clinicians, researchers, pharmaceutical firms, and industry, clinical trials are scientific experiments.  For epatients, clinical trials are treatment. Clinical trials are hope. By collaborating with epatients early in the design process, clinical trials not only can recruit more patients–they also move cancer research forward in ways that are meaningful to patients. Here are some examples.
12 Life Raft Group One of the earliest examples of patient involvement in clinical trial design comes from the Life Raft Group.  In the year 2000, gastrointestinal stromal tumor patients involved in the early Gleevec trials began sharing their experiences online in ACOR. Now Life Raft Group has the largest patient-generated clinical database in the world, and is driving research on GIST genome sequencing and drug screening.  http://liferaftgroup.org/
13 LMS Direct Research Foundation Another example of patient-driven research is the Leiomyosarcoma Direct Research Foundation.  LMS is very rare–only 4 people in 1 million have it.  In 2004, over 800 of those patients were members of an ACOR online support group.  One group member read a journal article about a GIST molecular study, and emailed the researcher to ask “What would you need to study LMS?” The answer was “tissue samples”  Patients recruited 500 donors from the online group, collected  slides from clinics, deidentified them, and gave them to the researcher. The Stanford lab has since identified several molecular subtypes of LMS as well as potential drug targets, and published nine journal articles in its first four years.  Key elements of this successful research collaboration were a motivated online patient network and a researcher who listened to those patients and trusted them as collaborators. http://www.lmsdr.org/stanfordu.php
14 TLS protocol crowdsourcing Technology is providing new ways to incorporate the patient voice.  In December 2012, the FDA cleared an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) for a multiple sclerosis therapy.  What’s remarkable is that the clinical trial protocol was the first ever developed with the aid of global crowdsourcing. That helped define primary and secondary endpoints, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and remote monitoring strategies for tracking patients.  http://dev.transparencyls.com/
15 ALCMI Young Lung Study 1 Patient networks and online technologies are also driving research for the most deadly cancer: lung cancer.   Currently 3-6 thousand newly-diagnosed lung cancer patients in the USA are under the age of 40, typically athletic never smokers.  The patient-founded Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute designed a study of the somatic and germline mutations that might be driving the cancer in these young patients. The study is unique in that it allows patients to enroll either at a study site or online. It also provides genomic profiling data and treatment recommendations to patients as well as physicians.
16 ALCMI Young Lung Study 2 Because this trial was created in response to patient-identified needs and included the patient voice in all phases of trial development, it accrued 30 patients in the first two weeks.
17 Petition to FDA Patients, clinicians, and researchers can also collaborate on regulatory issues that impact clinical trials.  While working with a laboratory director at the University of Colorado, Dr. Dara Aisner, I realized that patients like me who had a genomic cancer variation might be unable to access essential testing under the FDA’s proposed regulations for laboratory developed tests.  By collaborating with medical professionals, I was able to help lung cancer advocacy groups submit comments to the FDA, and draft an online petition that collected over 700 signatures in less than three days. You can still sign the petition, by the way. https://www.change.org/p/protect-patient-access-to-precision-medicine-tell-fda-to-withdraw-proposed-ldt-regulations
18 CTTI The Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative, which seeks to increase the quality and efficiency of clinical trials, recognizes the patient voice must be included when defining the precision medicine landscape. http://www.ctti-clinicaltrials.org/home
19 Where to Find Epatients If you’re interested in finding epatients for collaboration, there are many places you can look for them.  Here’s where they may be hiding.

20 Obama Quote When President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative, he said:”Patient advocates are not going to be on the sidelines. It’s not going to be an afterthought. They’re going to help us build this initiative from the ground up.”  He recognized the importance of including patient voices early in the design process. To be successful in the age of precision medicine, oncology researchers must collaborate with patients.
21 Thank You I hope I’ve encouraged further collaboration between cancer epatients, researchers, and industry. It will create faster paths to cancer cures.  Thank you for inviting me to share an epatient perspective at this symposium.

14 thoughts on “EPatients on the Front Lines: Precision Medicine, the FDA, and Me

  1. Amazing article and great resources!!! My limited perspective (I’m EGFR exon 19) is finding doctors who are not at research facilities to be very resistant to clinical trials….I actually had one say he didn’t “want any more paperwork and it won’t help you.” They don’t want to “share” patients and don’t discuss what they don’t offer or don’t understand…and they get defensive. Because of that, I’ve had to “doctor shop”…not easy as a patient. Connecting the patient to appropriate treatment is paramount. Also, there needs to be an exemption from insurance networks and regulations for patients with a critical diagnosis. The insurance system is a huge barrier to effective treatment.


  2. that is an incredible post. Thank you. The more people become aware of cancer patients, their experiences, needs, and involvement is the better. I wonder whether I have your permission to re-blog it? thank you.


  3. Thank you Janet, another precise, compelling and clear post, calling for subtle yet radical change in how we support person at the center care, hope, and meaningful exchange of health data. Much more work to do, thank you for your leadership. Wonder what you are thinking about the kind of package/gift of your patient generated health data, reported outcome s + other health data, you would like back from your clinical trial. This is one of the next bricks to lay. Thinking of you much over these next few days, Susie


  4. Pingback: A powerful post by Janet Freeman (@ Gray Connections) on cancer and patient empowerment | Life as I interpret it

  5. Janet,

    I also attended the conference at UCSD Moores Cancer Center. It was a fantastic day!

    I am a researcher and have helped to develop 3 drugs for cancer with J&J and Celgene. I continued to work in the cancer research and drug development field and am also helping to start biotechnology companies, as an entrepreneur.

    I noticed that you were taking photos of the presentations (as was I until my iPhone ran out of power). I would love to get copies of your photos, if you are willing to send them to me; or are you posting to your blog? Please let me know.

    I enjoyed your talk very much and appreciate work work as a patient advocate. It is because of you, people like you, and my own life’s journey with cancer that I have spent most of my life conducting cancer research.

    Best regards,

    David W. Anderson


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