CLL Update: My Visit With Dr. Sharman Expert CLL Doctor – Springfield Doctor Leads Trials for Breakthrough Cancer Treatments

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CLL Update – My visit with Dr. Sharman Expert CLL Doctor

Each year for the past 35 years I’ve had the good fortune of spending a glorious week or two with my family in Eugene, Oregon.  Blue sky, fresh ocean air and lush mountainous landscape is a feast for the body and soul. Hiking, biking, kayaking, river rafting, swimming, rock climbing (just a few of my favorite things) and more is just beyond the front door of my brothers cozy-cabin like home, nestled in the very steep hills of Eugene.  The great Northwest also offered me a different kind of adventure this year – a consultation with medical oncologist, Dr. Jeffrey Sharman.  Below is an email that I sent to friends and family following my recent visit.  Please contact me with any questions about Dr. Sharman or travel information to Eugene. I would love to help you!  - Love, Allison

Good morning all from beautiful Eugene Oregon!

What are the odds of Dr. Jeffrey Sharman, renown CLL doc living and working within 5 miles of my family? And, one of his partners also happens to be my amazing sister-in -laws local managing oncologist. This must be a sign…..please, read and listen carefully.

To read Dr. Sharmans full bio which is quite impressive to say the least, click here. Meeting Dr. Sharman was awesome, a gift; one that has filled me with hope and promise for CLL, Leukemia and Lymphoma patients around the world. Let me explain. First of all, he is brilliant, relatively young – a big bonus, incredibly personable, compassionate and crazy passionate about helping heal his patients. Nice looking too! He is great friends with Dr. Keating at MD Anderson in Houston and mentioned that he had just spent two weeks with him in Germany (Dr. Sharman was the keynote speaker, discussing “mind blowing new treatment” (his words) for CLL patients. BTW, Dr. Sharman has great respect for Keating and his colleagues at MDA.

Spencer’s Bute

The bottom line is this; Dr. Sharman developed two of the four new drugs (the other two were developed because of his work at Stanford). He does not believe in chemo drugs and will never use them, as they destroy healthy DNA and usually don’t work long term anyhow – only increasing the need for stronger more destructive chemotherapy treatments and the results are fair at best. He says that current chemo treatment is a thing of the past – period! The success he’s had treating hundreds of CLL patients with the new drugs, having no side effects has been astounding. In some cases it is just a matter of taking 1-3 pills for success. It is my understanding, (which is limited) based on my conversation with the doc that these new “bio therapy” type drugs, turn off the enzymes in the cancer producing cells. He described them as an off switch. Obviously the way in which these drugs work is complex. Here are the names of the new drugs: GA-101, CAL-101, GDC-0199. There is a fourth drug but I can’t read his writing . MDA is now using one of the drugs (GA-101, developed by Dr. Sharman).

Presently, there is no need for me to have treatment because my blood levels are in a happy place – hoping it stays this way. While I do have symptoms, i.e., fatigue, rash, night sweats they are manageable and tolerable. Dr. Sharman is presently working on possible treatment for patients in my class. Perhaps a clinical trial down the road. I’m in! Watch this video

I am deeply grateful to know that I have a new doctor whom I believe is on or near the precipice of a cure for CLL and other Leukemia and Lymphoma cancers with new non toxic treatments. I will be adding a visit with Dr. Sharman to my activities list each year.  Lucky me!

Dr. Sharman is open to helping new patients at Willamette Valley Cancer and Research Center, RiverBend Campus.

3377 Riverbend Dr.

Juno – My hiking buddy!

Springfield, Oregon 97477

View Primary Location

Phone Number: (541) 741-3451

Eugene Oregon is one the most exquisite places in the US to visit. My brother Brandt is more than happy to help you out should you decide to make the journey. Please let me know if I can help!

ALLways Love, Allison

A Recent Article about Dr. Sharman CLL Expert

A Springfield doctor is at the forefront of testing experimental drugs that could change radically the way some cancers are treated, winning national attention and the gratitude of local cancer patients, who say his work is changing their lives.

Dr. Jeffrey Sharman

Dr. Jeff Sharman, 38, is an internationally recognized expert on chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, a slow-growing blood cancer. He also is research director at the physician-owned and operated Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center, which has offices in Springfield, Eugene and Florence.

Sharman, a medical oncologist, is directing clinical trials for several new drugs that he said are considered breakthroughs in treating CLL.

Patients such as Walter Sperling of Tangent say simply that Sharman’s work has given patients their lives back. Instead of enduring long chemotherapy treatments with awful side effects, they take pills or are given infusions of antibodies, with little or no side effects.

“I feel like myself again,” Sperling, 63, said.

“It’s kind of a thrilling time to be involved in research, because we’re seeing real changes happen,” Sharman said.

For the past 40 years, CLL has been treated with chemotherapy — “those broad-spectrum target-anything-that-moves type drugs,” Sharman said.

“We now have individual pieces to put together treatment regimes that do not use chemotherapy, but are constructed out of different targeted therapies.”

For example, Sharman is treating CLL patients with infusions of cancer-fighting antibodies and with drugs that inhibit enzymes in certain cancerous cells, slowing their growth.

“The next 10 years, we’re going to be treating CLL without chemotherapy, and I think it’s going to be more effective than chemotherapy,” Sharman said.

Sharman’s research on treatments for leukemia and lymphoma, which has won accolades from the American Society of Hematology, has helped put Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center on the national stage. But the center’s main mission is to offer the latest therapies and highest quality care to patients in the community, said Josh Kermisch, the center’s executive director.

Founded in 1997, the center — the only comprehensive cancer treatment program in Lane County — has grown steadily and continues to expand its services and clinical programs, including research, Kermisch said.

Most center patients are local, but some travel from other parts of the state — and sometimes out of state — to participate in the center’s clinical trials, or for other services and treatments.

Tailored treatments

Sharman’s research is part of the broader trend of “personalized medicine,” or tailoring treatment to each individual patient.

Sharman describes “personalized medicine” as “delivering the right drug to the right patient at the right dosage to maximize efficacy and minimize side effects.”

“Personalized medicine says, ‘Target the cause in the patient rather than targeting the disease at large,’ ” he said. “In the past, we used drugs that targeted anything that grew fast — it was kind of (like a) broad-spectrum herbicide. Now, we have tools that go after unique abnormalities.”

That’s not to say that the experimental drugs are harmless, Sharman said. He said he and his patients always weigh a treatment’s risks, benefits and alternatives when deciding whether to start or continue it.

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, an experimental drug isn’t the right fit for a patient.

Sperling said he recently had to drop out of a clinical trial after two months of taking an experimental drug because of concerns that a type of white blood cell that helps fight infection hadn’t recovered sufficiently after years of harsh chemotherapy.

“Dr. Sharman became rightly concerned that sooner or later that had the potential to be a serious problem,” Sperling said.

“He’s had to come off that study, but I’ve got another in mind for him,” Sharman said.

“You have your life back”

Sperling was diagnosed with CLL in 2002. He had received different chemotherapy treatments over the years, including one from August 2011 to January 2012 that left him exhausted.

“I felt like crap, pardon me,” said Sperling, a self-employed writer. “I couldn’t get out of bed, or get up in the morning, and I had to take a nap in the afternoon.”

In March, after just six weeks on the experimental drug, an energetic Sperling said he hadn’t felt that good in more than a year.

“You have your life back,” he said. “I feel like myself again. I give people grief. I work in the yard. You feel like you’re getting a gift every day.”

Sperling said he is now receiving antibody infusions at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute.

“I still feel great,” he said recently. “Compared to where I was late last winter, I’m like 180 degrees from that.”

The research road

Sharman started down the road of research as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University Hospital and Clinics.

Back then, Sharman said he just wanted to chase a particular research idea. He didn’t fully realize that the work he was doing in the lab might help lead to the patients he is treating today.

Sharman joined Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center in 2008 because he said he felt the “quality of the physicians, the collegial environment and the group structure” would enable him to pursue research in a unique way.

The group’s doctors are highly trained and are “all motivated to help lead the science of clinical oncology,” and the center’s level of care exceeds that of many universities, he said.

Sharman said that the center’s relationship with US Oncology, the nation’s largest community-based research network specializing in oncology clinical trials, allows him and other doctors at the center to lead research projects on a national level from Eugene.

Sharman estimates that he spends about two-thirds of his time treating patients and the other third on clinical trials research — plus a lot of after-hours and weekend work.

The Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center and its physicians fund the center’s research department. Sponsors of research studies — such as a university or scientific consortium, a pharmaceutical company or a government agency, or some combination of these sponsors — cover the costs of specific clinical trials, Kermish said.

By conducting clinical trials, Sharman said he’s “a cog in the wheel of drug development,” but he isn’t a drug developer. He doesn’t represent any drug company, and he receives no financial gain from the development of drugs.

“It’s more just for the benefit of patients and seeing patients do better,” Sharman said.

Other treatments failed

Many of the patients with CLL who seek out Sharman have tried other treatments, without success.

Dan Petit, 68, a Northern California resident, managed to keep the overwhelming fatigue that accompanies the disease in check for six years by taking part in a series of clinical trials at MD Anderson, a leading cancer institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston.

But early last year, the daylong chemotherapy infusions he was getting at least monthly in Houston weren’t working. He suffered recurrent bouts of pneumonia.

Petit’s Houston oncologist referred him to a several West Coast cancer centers that were doing advanced work. Petit said he researched Stanford University and Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center, and petitioned for a spot in one of the Center’s clinical trials because, “I was going from bad to worse.”

Petit has been under Sharman’s care for the past nine months. The experimental drug he takes inhibits an enzyme in cancerous cells. He takes just two pills a day, and hasn’t noticed any side effects.

“That’s revolutionary,” he said. Before, “I was having to go to all-day chemotherapy infusions.”

The drug treatment “is making a meaningful difference,” said Petit, a retired educational service district project manager who still works part time.

“I’m not getting worse,” he said. “I was failing. I was starting to lose activity and life processes. It’s kept me alive, and it’s not allowed me to go backward.”

“I’m in a program where I’m in good hands for the first time in a long time, where I’m holding my own,” Petit said.

Plus, there’s the added convenience of participating in a clinical trial closer to home. Petit said he drives 500 miles every month to Springfield from his house in rural Etna, Calif. He spends the night at the Quality Inn in the Gateway area, then heads home the next day.

Petit said the care he receives as part of the clinical trial is billed to his insurance, when appropriate. Beyond that, he said he only pays for his travel costs.

“It’s well worth it compared to going to Houston,” which used to cost about $1,500 each trip, Petit said.

Local expertise

Petit and other patients said they are grateful to have access in Lane County to world class experts and the latest treatments.

“Having Dr. Sharman here, who’s an expert in this disease, and (a 35-minute drive) from our house, is unbelievable,” said Sperling, the patient who lives in Tangent.

“We’re continually impressed that we can have access to this level of medical science in the Springfield-Eugene area.”

Janet Rose, 55, another of Sharman’s patients, said that since starting antibody infusions in March, “I’ve had more energy than I had had for months.”

The Creswell resident, who works in the University of Oregon theater arts department, was diagnosed with CLL in December.

“This is pure luck that I live here,” she said in March as she received an infusion of an experimental antibody drug during her second day participating in the clinical trial.

“It was just pure luck that I was here at the right time.”

After just 24 hours of receiving the treatment, the CLL vanished from Rose’s blood, and it’s still gone, Sharman said.

“We’ve had another patient who achieved a complete remission,” he said.

Although Sharman focuses on the advancements and reasons for optimism, his work is not without frustrations.

“I had a research mentor who told me one time that research careers are built upon singles, occasional doubles, and rare career-building triples,” Sharman said. “Home runs almost never come along.

“What’s changing is those career-building triples and the occasional home run, those are coming along more frequently,” he said.

Also, he said, “I think that part of just being in practice is accepting that you’re not going to win every time, and perhaps it requires a readjustment of defining what winning is.”

“Sometimes, winning is helping a patient through an experience that has the potential to be miserable and making it as good an experience as possible, even recognizing the limitations that are there.”

BY SHERRI BURI MCDONALD, Courtesy of Register Guard.

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  1. awesome article Al.

  2. Allison – great article and so glad that you were able to make this connection! What an amazing doc and I’m so glad he is now a part of the team helping to keep you healthy!

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