Olathe Health Oncologist Successfully Treats Rare Cancer

OLATHE, KAN. (June 14, 2019)
– The Olathe Health Cancer Center is the first community site in the country to successfully treat an aggressive cancer using a newly approved FDA drug, the first of its kind to treat this specific form of malignancy.

Blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm (BPDCN) is a rare hematologic malignancy that can affect multiple organs, including the lymph nodes and skin. The exact incidence of the disease is unknown, but is estimated to represent 0.5 percent of all hematologic malignancies. It acts similar to an acute leukemia, and before December 2018, there was no FDA approved therapy to treat BPDCN. According to the FDA, prior to this new therapy the treatment option available to BPDCN patients was intensive chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplantation, which was too intensive for many of these patients to undergo.

Janet Leeker, 78, of Gardner, was diagnosed with BPDCN in December 2018. The disease started with a few deep red/purple lesions on her skin, which quickly progressed to about 30 lesions across her body. She sought treatment from Larry R. Corum, MD, a medical oncologist at Olathe Health Cancer Center who specializes in malignant blood disorders.

Because of Janet’s age, she wasn’t sure she wanted to undergo an aggressive, traditional chemotherapy regimen. Dr. Corum made her aware of the new, targeted therapy, Elzonris (tagraxofusp-ezrs), which was approved by the FDA just a few weeks prior. He worked with the manufacturer, the hospital pharmacists and the inpatient staff at Olathe Medical Center to get everything in place to administer her first cycle, which was a five-day infusion. Janet was the second patient in the nation to receive the drug after it was made commercially available in December.

“It’s amazing to me that a molecularly targeted therapy for such an incredibly rare disease would be developed and brought through the entire process to FDA approval,” Dr. Corum said. “The timing for Janet was perfect, since the drug had just become available weeks before her diagnosis. There are a number of cautions with this drug, but Janet had little to no side effects. After three days of treatment, her nodules appeared to be diminishing, and after a week they were almost complete gone. It was exciting to witness.”

For her second cycle, Dr. Corum administered her treatment in the Olathe Health Cancer Center as an outpatient procedure, becoming the first in the country to do so. After a few additional cycles of treatment, Janet is now in complete remission. As part of the maintenance program, she continues to receive the therapy at Olathe Health Cancer Center every three weeks.

“This was an exciting challenge for the pharmacy department, as patients like this are usually seen at large academic hospitals,” Divine Chi, Pharm.D, BCPS, Oncology Clinic Pharmacist at Olathe Health Cancer Center, said. “We always strive to make the latest pharmaceutical advances available to our patients. In cases like this, we also must work quickly to assure that a thorough review of the medication is completed to assure appropriate storage, preparation, administration, and monitoring in order to optimize patient efficacy and safety.”

Janet is looking forward to attending a family wedding in June with her three children and grandchildren. Her treatments haven’t slowed her down. She is retired and says she is busier than ever.