|Clinical trials bring a new ally to Hodgkin lymphoma patients |
Susan Romo was 36, newly married with a 9-year-old son and had just earned her paralegal degree when symptoms began in 2007.
“I had night sweats, weight loss, constant coughing and horrible itching — everywhere, constantly,” recalls the Bellflower, Calif., resident. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and began six months of chemotherapy.
The cancer remained.
So she turned to City of Hope and underwent intensive chemotherapy for three months, followed by two autologous stem cell transplants, in which she received her own purified blood stem cells to repair her blood and immune systems.
A subsequent imaging scan revealed the tumors were still there. It was time to consider another option — a new drug that showed promise against her disease but was still experimental.
The investigational drug was called brentuximab vedotin. Romo’s physician, Robert Chen, M.D., assistant professor of hematology and hematopoietic cell transplantation, led clinical studies of the drug at City of Hope. Chen’s work was funded through the Tim Nesvig Lymphoma Fellowship and Research Fund.
Patients responded so well to the drug that in August 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug, now called Adcetris, for two groups of lymphoma patients: those with anaplastic large cell lymphoma who do not respond to a multi-agent chemotherapy regimen and Hodgkin lymphoma patients who fail to respond to at least two multi-agent chemotherapy regimens or autologous stem cell transplantation. Through his studies, Chen played a key role in the accelerated approval.
“This is very exciting because there has been no drug approved for Hodgkin lymphoma in more than 30 years,” Chen said. City of Hope has evaluated the drug through clinical trials in about 50 patients — including Romo.
From May 2009 to April 2010, she received infusions of Adcetris every three weeks as an outpatient. She experienced some nerve-related side effects, but they gradually lessened. “After a while, I started to realize that maybe this is the thing that’s going to work for me,” she said.
Her illness greatly deepened her faith as well as her empathy for others who struggle with disease. “I want to encourage people who are going through what I’ve been through,” she said.
Echoing a message she remembers from Chen and her medical team, she added, “It’s hard, but you can get through it.”
As she resumes her busy family life, she is allowing herself to make plans again: finding a job, running a marathon, perhaps even becoming a foster parent.
Said Romo: “I want to live fearlessly, not just as a survivor, but as a conqueror.”
For more information about clinical trials at City of Hope, visit