The Importance of Clinical Trials

Close Up Photo Of A White Flower Against A Green Background
Serena; Flickr

•    Early detection via an unrelated CT scan
•    Chemotherapy caused difficult side effects
•    Clinical trial showed initial good results
•    Second clinical trial, utilizing GVAX vaccine, being attempted

I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2015. A spot on my pancreas was noted during a CT scan for something unrelated.

An endoscopic ultrasound confirmed that it was cancer. Although it seemed operable, when the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) surgeon went in, he discovered the cancer had spread to the liver.

My First Clinical Trial

I continued my care with oncologist Dr. Maeve Lowery, at MSKCC at that time. I began chemotherapy on a phase I/II clinical trial with standard of care gemcitabine and Abraxane and experimental M402. Dr. Eileen O’Reilly is the lead investigator on the M402 trial at MSKCC. It requires self-administered daily shots. The side effects of the Abraxane were difficult: fatigue that seriously affected my quality of life and a general sense of being unwell. I rarely had a full day of feeling okay

This combination was helpful for six months: the cancer on the liver shrunk so that it was barely visible and the growth in the pancreas also shrunk. However, on my last CT scan, at the end of March 2016, there had been significant enough growth that my protocol needed to change and I no longer qualified for the clinical trial.

Looking for Other Clinical Trials

With the need to make changes, I moved my care to Dr. Allyson Ocean at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Ocean then referred me for a phase II clinical trial at the University of Pennsylvania. The lead investigator at Penn is Dr. Kim Reiss Binder and the trial originates at Johns Hopkins.

The main purpose of this study is to test whether it is safe to give cyclophosphamide, GVAX pancreas vaccine, CRS-207 and nivolumab to treat people with advanced pancreatic cancer who have received and failed one prior chemotherapy treatment for metastatic cancer. Each of these drugs has been tested individually in humans in clinical trails.

I live in NYC and travel to Philadelphia every three weeks for treatment that will continue for five months. I’ve only had the first cycle and so far the side effects are manageable. However, the drug combination changes with the third cycle.

Judith passed away after sharing her story with Let’s Win. Her pursuit of clinical trials has helped extend the knowledge available to everyone that comes after her. We offer our deep sympathy to her family.