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Susan O'Brien, MD

Susan M. O'Brien, MD is a professor in the Department of Leukemia, Division of Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and is also a member of the Lymphoma Research Foundation's (LRF) Scientific Advisory Board (SAB).

Susan O'Brien, MD

She received her MD in biochemistry from the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey Medical School and completed her fellowship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She was originally drawn to the field of leukemia because it seemed to be a systemic disease (in which you treated the whole patient) as opposed to a single-organ disease. Her focus on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) is as a result of her involvement in the early days of effective chemotherapy treatments. "Some of the original chemotherapy clinical trials were held at MD Anderson with great success rates," she recalled. "I have been involved in almost all clinical trials for CLL drugs including ofatumumab, alemtuzumab, and fluarabine."

Today Dr. O'Brien remains engaged in CLL as she trains physicians both within and outside of MD Anderson and runs clinical trials focused on drug development. "There are really exciting new drugs in CLL including B-cell receptor inhibitors, which are novel oral agents with minimal toxicity and no myelosuppression (which is a side effect of chemotherapy which can lead to infection)," she said. "There are agents with new mechanisms coming into trials, including new monoclonal antibodies attached to toxins," she explained. Three clinical trials Dr. O'Brien is involved in include a CAL-101 trial with rituximab, a CAL-101 in combination with bendamustine and rituximab trial, and a PCI-32765 (ibrutnib) trial in combination with rituximab. These trials enable patients to have access to novel agents which work to interrupt CLL survival.

Dr. O'Brien believes LRF's SAB plays an important role in funding both clinical and basic science. "As an SAB member it is exciting that you are in a position which supports research and clinical trials testing new agents to look at toxicity and efficacy for new drugs, and also provides support for basic research which can lead to a target which may evolve into new drug therapies," she said. "SAB members also have the opportunity to participate in LRF educational programs including web conferences and workshops, which offer great possibilities for educating patients and doctors and spreading awareness and information about the disease and clinical trials."

In the case of a newly diagnosed CLL patient, Dr. O'Brien would advise getting a second opinion in diagnosis at a major center. "When to treat CLL is largely a judgment call so patients should also diversify their knowledge on available clinical trials," she said. "ClinicalTrials.gov is a great resource for self-educating since you can search by disease or by specific drugs. There are many new and exciting agents available to patients in trials."

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