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HCRN lymphoma working group co-chairs driven by science and mentorship

Co-chairs of the HCRN Lymphoma Working Group, Jonathan B. Cohen, MD, Natalie Galanina, MD, and Natalie Grover, MD, were driven by science and the influence of strong mentors early in their careers. It’s also why lymphoma is a focus of their work as they see great opportunities to make an impact through the WG collaboration.

Dr. Cohen is associate professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Emory University School of Medicine, and co-director of the Lymphoma Program at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; Dr. Galanina, is associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; and Dr. Grover is associate professor of medicine, clinical director, Cellular Therapy Program, and leader, Cell Therapy POD at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Dr. Cohen credits one of his medical school faculty members, a lymphoma specialist, with sparking his interest in oncology. Then, in his residency and fellowship at The Ohio State University, he was paired with Christy Bloom, MD, who was the program director and his primary mentor.

“I was in the lymphoma clinic early on and found it to be an incredibly satisfying rotation. It was a challenging patient population and group of diseases, and I really enjoyed taking care of the patients.”

It was more of an evolution than an “Aha!” moment for him.

Dr. Grover had a similar experience. “I remember in summer I was working in a lab, but I was also volunteering at a Hospice as an undergrad, and volunteering at a hospital, and I realized that I enjoyed the patient interactions a lot. So that encouraged me and further sparked my interest in going into medicine.”

As for her interest to focus on lymphoma, Dr. Grover enjoyed her oncology rotations and always looked back to see what happened to the patients. She also had an influential mentor at UNC who focused on lymphoma.
Dr. Galanina shared a personal experience; her mom had breast cancer at an early age, and that fueled her interest in oncological care. During her fellowships, she was exposed to hematology and “was quite fascinated by the complexity and the diversity of hematologic disorders. What really is exciting about hematology, in general, is the remarkable advancement of research and the fact that we can make a meaningful, tangible difference in our patients’ lives with treatments that far exceed expectations.”

The rapid pace of advancement also drew Dr. Grover’s interest, as she saw “how quickly the field was changing with new treatments coming on. I was excited to be part of that.”

Lymphoma has seen tremendous advancements in treatments over the last 50 years, and even more so in the last decade or so.

“When many of us started our training about 10 to 15 years ago, the standard approach was primarily chemotherapy, potentially with rituximab,” said Dr. Cohen. “We now have a large number of oral therapies and immunotherapies that we use for almost all of our lymphoma subtypes. The series of trials that have come along have created a sea change really in the last 10 to 15 years.”

Dr. Galanina continued, “I think the challenge now is how we learn to prioritize all of the available treatment options, and in particular, how we’re going to combine them in order to create more effective treatment regimens.”

The three co-chairs believe that having a small, effective, multi-institutional group can make great advances in the treatment of lymphoma.

Dr. Galanina believes the HCRN group can help “develop innovative, effective combinations via clinical trials that are possible using the multi-institution platform.”

Dr. Grover sees one benefit of the group as the ability to enroll patients across several sites, particular for studies that involve rare lymphomas that are difficult to enroll at a single institution. “It’s important to have collaborations across multiple sites to be able to help answer our questions and treat our patients.”

Coordination of multi-site studies can be challenging, “due to cost, regulatory burden, and a limited number of patients who can participate in trials,” said Dr. Cohen. “This really highlights the importance of collaboration, and this also is where the HCRN is really helpful, because there’s a significant portion of the burden that the group helps to address and manage.”

One of the benefits to working on a team like the  HCRN Lymphoma Working Group is that motivated investigators can work together to come up with a concept “that emerges from within the committee. I think that significantly increases the likelihood of success, and it increases the engagement in general among investigators,” said Dr. Cohen. “If a handful of folks have been very involved with developing the concept, they’re much more likely to be engaged with all aspects of the trial.”

“Being a somewhat smaller entity, I think that we’re a little bit more efficient. That’s a huge advantage, because time is essentially everything, and we’re able to get things done,” said Dr. Galanina.

HCRN currently has three lymphoma studies open to accrual: a Phase 2, open label, multicenter study of pacritinib in relapsed/refractory T-cell lymphoproliferative neoplasms (HCRN-LYM21-544); a phase 2 study of pembrolizumab and mogamulizumab in advanced-stage, relapsed/refractory cutaneous T-cell lymphomas (HCRN-LYM21-546); and a phase 2 study of the safety and efficacy of epcoritamab with gemcitabine, dexamethasone, and cisplatin (GDP) salvage chemotherapy in relapsed refractory large B-cell lymphoma (HCRN-LYM22-565).

The co-chairs anticipate increasing the portfolio as momentum builds within the group. “This is an exciting time to be in this space,” said Dr. Galanina. “To be able to meaningfully contribute to the advancement of research is the greatest part.”

Learn more about the HCRN Lymphoma Clinical Trial Working Group at: https://hoosiercancer.org/clinical-trials/clinical-trial-working-groups/lymphoma-clinical-trial-working-group/.

— Written by Lori Green LeRoy. Lori is an Indianapolis-based PR and communications professional and principal of Front Page Ink Communications.

About Hoosier Cancer Research Network:

Hoosier Cancer Research Network conducts innovative cancer clinical trials in collaboration with more than 100 academic and community clinical research sites across the United States. Our studies are designed by cancer researchers from our member institutions. The HCRN staff includes 55 team members who work together to support all aspects of the studies we manage, from the time we receive the initial concept from a researcher through the final publication of the study results. Currently, we are supporting more than 70 clinical trials across a wide range of cancer types. Over our 40-year history, more than 10,000 participants in have enrolled in our clinical trials, leading to important discoveries that help cancer patients live longer and better after their cancer diagnosis.