Our “Meet the Researcher” series on The LLS Blog shares what our outstanding LLS-funded researchers are working on, the incredible impact they’re making in the fight against blood cancers, and what inspires their efforts to find better treatments and cures.
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, LLS is highlighting the stories of volunteers, healthcare professionals, researchers, patients, survivors, and advocates from across our community. Recently, we caught up with Charlene Liao, Ph.D., Co-Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Immune-Onc Therapeutics, a new LLS Therapy Acceleration Program® (LLS TAP) partner. Dr. Liao also previously received an LLS Career Development Program (CDP) grant, supporting her postdoctoral research in immunology at the University of California, San Francisco in Dr. Art Weiss's laboratory.
A trailblazer in biotech, Dr. Liao has 25 years of experience in drug development and business leadership. Before co-founding Immune-Onc Therapeutics in 2016, she held global drug development roles at Genentech, where she led development efforts across the product lifestyle for ten new molecular entities across immunology, infectious diseases, metabolic disorders, neuroscience, and oncology. Prior to this, she was a Director of Business Development at Rigel Pharmaceuticals and began her career as a scientist at Tularik. Dr. Liao received her Ph.D. from Brandeis University in the laboratory of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Michael Rosbash.
LLS continues to support her visionary work. In April, LLS TAP announced new investments, including funding to support Immune-Onc Therapeutics’ IO-202, a first-in-class antibody targeting myeloid checkpoint LILRB4 (also known as ILT3). The treatment is in a phase 1 clinical trial for advanced acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML), with potential in other blood cancers and solid tumors. LLS TAP is our strategic venture philanthropy funding initiative to accelerate high-risk, innovative blood cancer therapies and change the standard of care in leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
We invited Dr. Liao to share how her company’s work will help blood cancer patients and their families, what excites her about the future of cancer immunotherapy, and her inspiring career journey.
Our “Meet the Researcher” series shares what outstanding LLS-affiliated researchers are working on, the incredible impact they are making in the fight against blood cancer, and what inspires their efforts to find better treatments and cures.
In this Q&A, we are highlighting Dr. Christopher R. Flowers, MD, chair of Lymphoma and Myeloma at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and LLS National Board Member. Later this week, Dr. Flowers will be speaking on a timely panel about diversity in hematology clinical trials at AACR 2021.
Q: What is your area of expertise and/or what is the focus of your research?
My clinical practice is focused on the care of patients with lymphoma. My research focuses on clinical, translational and epidemiology approaches to improve treatments for patients with lymphoma developing new means to cure lymphomas and ultimately searching for ways to prevent people from developing lymphoma.
Q: Why is it imperative to improve diversity among clinical trial participants?
When we look at patients with lymphomas, we see differences in the age of onset for various lymphoma subtypes across racial and ethnic groups. We also see disparities in survival for many types of lymphomas and other blood cancers by race, gender, rural/urban status, socioeconomic status, and insurance status. To find ways to understand these differences and improve these disparities patients from these diverse groups need to be represented in interventional clinical trials and observational studies.
Q: What are some of the reasons for a lack of diversity in clinical trials?
Overall trial participation rates involve about 15% of patients at academic centers and 6% at community centers that perform trials. Several groups have studied reasons for lack of diversity in cancer clinical trials. Our group and a few others have studied reasons why there is limited diversity in clinical trials among patients with blood cancers. Numerous factors limit diversity in clinical trials. Patients with household incomes less than $50,000 were approximately 30% less likely to participate in trials. The largest obstacles to enrollment in trials for rural patients seem to be distance and lack of communication between large centers and small clinics. Patients from some racial/ethnic groups have described barriers including: lack of trust in care providers, need for improved education regarding diagnosis and clinical trial risks and benefits, and alignment of the trial with the patients’ described research priorities,
Q: What can be done to increase diversity in clinical trials?
Five broad themes have been described for increasing participation of women and minorities in clinical trials: commitment and center leadership, investigator training and mentorship, community engagement, patient engagement, and operational practices.
Q: Do you feel as if progress has been made in building trust to recruit minority populations to participate in clinical trials?
Substantial progress has been made in identifying the broader barriers to clinical trial participation in for certain patient subgroups. This begins the process for building trusts in minority populations and other communities that have been traditionally under-represented in clinical trials. However, continued progress will require translating broader strategies like those mentioned above to the local context. Each local environment will have differences in the specific barriers that influence patients’ trust and willingness to participate in clinical trials.
Q: Recently, LLS launched the IMPACT research grants to increase enrollment of individuals from underrepresented communities in clinical trials. Can you tell us about your involvement with LLS to further health equity for all blood cancer patients?
I have been involved with LLS in multiple ways over the course of my career. I began my career as an investigator who received one of my first grants from the LLS Translational Research Program. This jump started my career in clinical research. I have also served as a LLS volunteer in the local Light The Night walks, as a member of the Georgia Board of Directors, and now with the LLS National Board of Directors. In each of these roles, I have been involved in fundraising for LLS efforts like the IMPACT grants. These research grants create a tremendous opportunity to learn more about how to establish successful strategies to increase enrollment on clinical trials for under-represented populations.
Tune into Dr. Flowers’ panel on diversity in cancer clinical trials during AACR 2021 on Friday, May 21st from 9:45-11:15am ET.
From February 28 through March 13, Walgreens customers united in the fight against cancer, donating $1 or more at check-out in Walgreens stores nationwide as part of the Raise Hope, End Cancer Fundraiser. More than 9,000 U.S. Walgreens retail and specialty stores participated, raising an incredible $10 million of support for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and Susan G. Komen (Komen). Customers also generously donated their Walgreens Cash rewards online or through the mobile app.
“Each day, we’re hearing from patients and families who are struggling to access the care they need during the pandemic. With this record-breaking support from our friends at Walgreens and supporters across the country, we’ll be able to help more patients when it’s needed most. We are blown away by this year’s results and want to express our heartfelt gratitude to Walgreens and its customers nationwide for supporting LLS. Thank you,” says Louis DeGennaro, Ph.D., LLS President and CEO. “Our partnership with Walgreens is setting a new standard for what nonprofits and industry can achieve through collaboration.”
Walgreens, LLS, and Komen are collaborating to raise funds to enable new research in breast and blood cancers and expand access, treatment, and support services for those living with these diseases. In 2019, Walgreens pledged to contribute more than $25 million to LLS and Komen collectively over the next five years to improve the health and well-being of people living with cancer nationwide. Thanks to the support of our community, we’re well on our way to meeting this goal. All funds are split evenly between LLS and Komen.
LLS will use these funds to accelerate cancer treatment breakthroughs for blood cancer patients and help patients, caregivers, and survivors cope with the financial, emotional, and psychological effects of cancer.
The best part is, there is still time to support! Throughout March, customers can donate their Walgreens Cash rewards to participate in the Raise Hope, End Cancer Fundraiser. Simply log into your myWalgreens account online or through the mobile app. On your account dashboard, you will see a link to donate your Walgreens Cash rewards. From there, you will be able to select your donation amount based on the Walgreens Cash rewards available in your account. All funds will be split equally between LLS and Komen. Together, we can fight cancer!
Take action today! Log into your myWalgreens account online or through the mobile app to donate your Walgreens Cash rewards. Don’t have a myWalgreens account? Sign up for free to start saving on purchases and donate your Walgreens Cash rewards.