When Janet Leeker, 78, of Gardner, was diagnosed with blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm (BPDCN) in December 2018, she was overwhelmed. The rare hematologic malignancy is estimated to represent 0.5 percent of all hematologic malignancies. And until recently, there was no FDA approved therapy to treat it.
Janet noticed something was wrong when she started developing a few deep red/purple lesions on her skin. They 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.
Typically, patients with BPDCN undergo an aggressive, traditional chemotherapy regimen, which is often too intensive for many of these patients to undergo. However, BPDCN patients like Janet have another option thanks to a newly approved FDA drug.
Dr. Corum made her aware of the new, targeted therapy, Elzonris (tagraxofusp-ezrs), which was approved by the FDA just a few weeks prior to Janet’s visit with Dr. Corum. 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. As part of the maintenance program, she continues to receive the therapy at the Olathe Health Cancer Center every three weeks.
Janet isn’t letting her treatment slow her down. She is retired and says she is busier than ever. She recently celebrate her grandson’s wedding with all her family.
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