May 21, 2021 2:00 PM

Read Time: 3 minutes


Photo of Christos Vaklavas, MD, and Deborah Stephens, DO
Christos Vaklavas, MD, and Deborah Stephens, DO

At any given time, there are over 200 clinical trials available to cancer patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). Clinical trials improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. They study promising new approaches to cancer to determine whether they are effective. Clinical trials also study whether drugs approved for use in one disease can be effective in other settings, and monitor ways to reduce side effects.

Two new promising trials at HCI include the I-SPY2 trial, studying new approaches for breast cancer treatment (NCT01042379), and the SWOG CLL Study S1925, or EVOLVE CLL (NCT04269902), an international study evaluating a new approach to chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL).

Learn more about clinical trials available at HCI.

I-SPY2: Continuously Evaluating Breast Cancer Treatment Options

The I-SPY2 trial explores the best medicine to target a patient’s unique tumor. Traditionally, certain clinical trials for cancer meant patients received a new medication, while others received the standard of care regimen. This is an example of a blinded trial—when physicians and patients are unaware of the treatment.

“The rapid advances in cancer therapeutics call for a change of this paradigm,” says Christos Vaklavas, MD, principal investigator of the I-SPY2 trial and physician leader in breast cancer at HCI. “We want to bring novel, promising therapies to our patients faster.”

In the I-SPY2 trial, doctors started using sophisticated techniques to gather a molecular sequence of the patient’s tumor. The tumor characteristics match to medications shown to be most effective for the specific type of tumor. Throughout the trial, the patient is frequently assessed to determine if their tumor is responding to the drug. If the response is strong, then the next patient with the same tumor characteristics will receive that drug regimen.

The goal is to constantly assess the patient’s progress and match them with medications that are most effective for their tumor. Doctors hope to minimize time spent on whether a particular treatment is effective. “This study gives our patients better treatments with every turn and minimizes the possibility that they will receive an inferior treatment,” adds Vaklavas.

EVOLVE CLL: Studying A New Approach to Leukemia

Most patients diagnosed with cancer begin treatment with chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy—or a combination of all three—immediately after diagnosis. Yet, many diagnosed with CLL or SLL do not begin treatment until they develop symptoms like fever, anemia, or night sweats. Sometimes symptoms do not appear for a year or more.

“Studies of older chemotherapy drugs show treating CLL or SLL before patients have symptoms doesn’t help them live longer,” says Deborah Stephens, DO, national principal investigator of the SWOG CLL Study S1925 and physician leader of the hematology clinical trials at HCI. “This trial is important because many people with CLL and SLL want treatment after being told they have cancer. Now there are newer and more effective drugs for CLL and SLL and researchers want to find out if starting treatment before symptoms appear will help patients live longer and have better quality of life.”

In EVOLVE CLL, one group of patients begins treatment immediately after being diagnosed with CLL or SLL. Another group receives the current standard of care for the disease: they will wait to be treated until they begin to show symptoms related to CLL.

Stephens recently received a National Comprehensive Cancer Network Young Investigator Award—a prestigious grant that supports physician-scientists in their clinical research activities.

Stephens’s goal is to improve the standard of care for her patients. She is an advocate for clinical trials as a critical tool to understand how to provide more effective cancer care. And, she notes, patients are essential partners in clinical research. “When people choose to participate in a clinical trial, they move cancer medicine and patient care forward,” says Stephens.

Media Contact

Ashlee Harrison
Public Relations – Huntsman Cancer Institute
public.affairs@hci.utah.edu
801-585-1954

cancer research clinical trials breast cancer leukemia experimental therapeutics

About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital, and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. HCI provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. HCI is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. HCI is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at HCI than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. HCI was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

Cancer touches all of us.

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