A Beacon of Light on Your Cancer Care Journey

EASTERN CONNECTICUT HEMATOLOGY & ONCOLOGY ASSOCIATES

At the Forefront of Participation in Research Clinical Trials

ECHO is proud to provide access to the nation’s leading clinical trials. Dr. Susan Johnson is a Doctor of Pharmacy and serves as Director of Research at ECHO. She plays a vital role in investigating and selecting clinical trials that are well-suited to the needs of ECHO patients and the community. She and her team then oversee all aspects of the clinical trial experience, ensuring that the highest safety standards and protocols are in place.  

Below, Dr. Johnson shares some information about clinical trials.

Tell us about the clinical trial team.

As Director of Research, I am continually meeting with scientific liaisons from pharmaceutical companies to find out what current and upcoming trials are available and which trials could potentially benefit our current and future patients.

My team consists of:

  • 3 nurses ( Nancy Wilcox, Stacy Rich and Tami Chapman) who serve as study coordinators
  • Jim Champlin who is our drug inventory coordinator and also handles all distribution of specimens and imaging
  • Rosemary Benton who handles the regulatory portion and all administrative and reporting aspects of the clinical trial participation, from initiation of the study to closure

How do you determine which trials to offer?

We systematically examine the demographics and statistics to see what cancers we are mostly seeing and where the most promising research progress has been made.  Lung, prostate, breast, colorectal and bladder cancers are the most frequently occurring cancers.   We offer clinical treatment trials for these cancers as well as other cancers.

Are there different kinds of trials?

There are several types of cancer clinical trials, including treatment trials, prevention trials, screening trials, and supportive and palliative care trials. Each type of trial is designed to answer different research questions and will help researchers learn things that will help people in the future. Some trials are designed as a first line of treatment to cure the cancer, and other trials are last resort efforts to treat a cancer when all other treatments have failed.

Other trials are Quality-of-Life/ Supportive Care/ Palliative Care Trials. These trials look at ways to improve the quality of life of cancer patients, especially those who have side effects from cancer and its treatment. For instance, one trial we currently offer looks at ways to improve impaired ports to increase blood flow. Another trial compares different growth factors to help with neutropenia.

What are some promising areas of research?

Genomics is the study of all of a person’s genes (the genome), including interactions of those genes with each other and with the person’s environment. Great progress is being made working with genomics and DNA to create very individualized treatment plans for patients based on their unique genetic structures. We are able to get patients in studies on a just-in-time basis and expedite genomic trials.

Can you provide an example?

We have one patient who was at Dana Farber. He had a unique mutation of lung cancer. Dana Farber knew that, being a large academic center, it would take 3-6 months to get a trial opened for this patient. They transferred him to our care, we got the trial opened within a week, and he began treatment that week.

How many patients participate in trials at ECHO?

On an annual basis, we have 70-120 patients enrolled in trials. For many years, we have been recognized as one of the top two practices in the state of Connecticut offering clinical trials, second only to Yale.

How do you determine if there is a trial that is right for a patient?

Every patient that comes in our door is initially reviewed for eligibility for a clinical trial. Twice a week, our Tumor Review Board comes together to review if any of our patients are eligible. Our board includes oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, and specialists such as urology or gastroenterology.

Is there any progress in helping patients avoid cancer before it is diagnosed?

There is a lot of progress with biomarker studies. These studies look at newly diagnosed patients for biomarkers that may be very common. Identifying which biomarkers may lead to cancer can be very useful information and will allow physicians during routine physicals to potentially screen for and catch certain types of cancer earlier.

What are the benefits of participating in a clinical trial at ECHO?

There is a great deal of progress with clinical trials. The majority of our patients are treated in our community and we offer the same trials as large academic centers. The difference is, when patients undergo trials elsewhere, they lose the emotional and family support of being treated in the community, and they face a number of logistical challenges. We offer trials across all areas so our patients can go through treatment in the comfort of their own communities, close to home.

How can people find out what studies you offer?

We frequently update our current clinical trials on our ECHO website.

We also have other helpful information on our website about phases of clinical trials and what is involved in participating in one. That information can be found here.

What if someone is interested in joining a study?

If someone is interested in learning more about a trial, he/ she can contact our Research Department and ask to speak with me. Or, they can email me at sjohnson@echoct.com.